OFFSHORE DRILLING:

Landrieu blocks OMB nominee in bid to end moratorium

Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu today vowed to block the Senate's confirmation of a top White House nominee until the Obama administration takes action on its deepwater drilling moratorium.

Landrieu said she would block Jack Lew's path to becoming director of the White House Office of Management and Budget until the drilling moratorium is lifted or "significantly modified."

"I cannot support further action on Mr. Lew's nomination to be a key economic advisor to the president until I am convinced that the president and his administration understand the detrimental impacts that the actual and de facto moratoria continue to have on the Gulf Coast," Landrieu wrote in a letter today to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Landrieu has been a staunch opponent of the moratorium, citing its devastating economic impact on coastal communities that rely on the oil and gas industry. The Obama administration imposed a six-month moratorium in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill this summer. That drilling ban was overturned in federal court, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar quickly imposed a second one, which is still in effect.

"In repeated meetings and correspondence with ... Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Michael Bromwich, I have underscored how damaging this moratorium is to Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the nation. Unfortunately, I have seen no measurable progress," Landrieu wrote. "I have done everything within my power to get this administration's attention. But the policy remains in effect, and Louisiana's economy continues to suffer."

Landrieu has also vowed to vote against energy legislation that does not require an immediate lifting of the moratorium.

"There would be no reason for me to vote for a bill that would either produce more energy or save it without taking care of the coast that's producing the most of it now," she said earlier this week. "No energy bill is going to pass -- well, they can try, but they're not going to have my support -- unless it includes some of those elements."

Senate Democratic leaders have said they want a floor vote on Lew's confirmation before the midterm recess, but Landrieu's pledge will hold up a nomination that had otherwise drawn little opposition in the Senate.

When he was head of OMB during the Clinton administration, Lew oversaw agency budget cuts and left behind a rare budget surplus. During confirmation hearings last week, he scored substantial Republican support after stressing a commitment to pay-as-you-go budgeting.

His nomination was approved unanimously by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this week, garnering support from six Republicans on the panel. The only senator to vote against Lew in the Senate Budget Committee was Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who had criticized Lew for working at Citigroup and downplaying the role of deregulation in the financial crisis.

The Budget panel approved Lew's nomination today by a 22-1 vote, allowing it to head to the full Senate.

Click here to read the letter.

Reporter Gabriel Nelson contributed.

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