I write today not as an analyst, but as an advocate. Joe Biden has nominated Neera Tanden to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget. Republican senators must confirm her. Neera Tanden is one of the better-known luminaries of the Beltway commentariat. The head of the Center for American Progress, a close advisor to Hillary Clinton, and a frequent presence on television news panels, Tanden has been a tireless advocate for a kind of corporate liberalism. Progressive but not radical; redistributive but not confiscatory; never a threat to persistent powerful institutions. She is perfectly at ease pushing this line from the clubby green rooms of NBC to the sprawling, brawling swamps of Twitter. Yet I say to my fellow Republicans: few things could better advance the cause of American conservatism than putting Neera Tanden in charge of OMB. Her track record as a manager, her deep obsession with the media echo chamber, her enthusiasm for conspiracy theories, and her eagerness to chase shiny objects all prove the case. Republicans should want Tanden helming the Biden administration’s regulatory process. Tanden was an ‘architect’ of the farrago of regulatory contradiction called Obamacare, and advised HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius while the latter was failing to launch healthcare.gov. After the Obama administration, Tanden decamped to CAP, where she successfully shook down a host of corporate behemoths, torpedoed the organization’s mission when it conflicted with the White House line, and retaliated against women who complained about sexual harassment with the enthusiasm of the television executives she relentlessly courts. Indeed, if personnel is policy, Tanden’s toxicity could make her an unwitting bulwark against liberal achievements. Yet Tanden’s temperament really sets her apart as the GOP idyll of a Biden OMB. Designed originally to provide Congress with budget estimates, since the Nixon administration OMB has played a central role in advancing the policy objectives of each administration. It is the place in the Executive Office of the President where proposed regulations from the cabinet departments get checked and cleared for conformity with the president’s vision. As a practical matter, that means the OMB head has two jobs: making policy tradeoffs that keep the president’s coalition happy, and protecting the president from any embarrassing consequences of regulations. To do that job well, an OMB head needs to have a comprehensive sense of his or her party’s coalition, the ability to set priorities between competing claims, and a close attention to detail.Lacking these traits, Tanden will fail spectacularly. A media creature and a fundraiser, Tanden is easily distracted. She habitually rage-tweets, often at all hours of the night, selecting her targets with the precision of a blindfolded drunk throwing darts. She routinely antagonizes the left wing of the Democratic party, attacks the character of the Republican senators whose votes she will need to be confirmed, and chases momentary fixations as a matter of course. Her judgment is also poor. A full-on Russiagate Truther, Tanden has pushed some truly deranged Trump conspiracies, including but not limited to the Steele Report. And she has done it all in public view, tweeting and retweeting incessantly. Good OMB directors work diligently with their heads down. Tanden keeps hers squarely above the ramparts.
Polling suggests Biden inspires little enthusiasm among Democratic voters. Indeed, without Donald Trump in the White House, it is unclear what binds the Democrats together. If Biden is to be reelected, or to avoid a midterm massacre, he needs policy wins that keep his fractious coalition happy — the kind of wins made all the more difficult given his electoral reliance on moderate suburban voters. That means he needs an OMB director who is deft, perspicacious and politically astute. And this, ultimately, is why the GOP should confirm Neera Tanden: an unfocused radioactive personality, a poor manager who routinely alienates her subordinates, and a Democratic infighter who can’t stay out of internecine brawls over the tiniest and most inane issues. In short, she’s perfect.