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Obama nominates Wal-Mart executive as budget chief

WASHINGTON – President Obama on Monday nominated Wal-Mart’s Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his next budget chief, thrusting her into the center of Washington’s heated partisan budget battles.

Obama announced Burwell’s selection to lead the Office of Management and Budget during a White House ceremony, noting that her appointment comes as government-wide spending cuts are going into effect that he said mean “eventually a lot of people are going to feel some pain.”

The White House and congressional Republicans were unable to reach a deal to avert the cuts ahead of last Friday’s deadline.

If confirmed by the Senate, Burwell would bring more diversity to Obama’s second-term Cabinet following criticism that many top jobs were going to white men.

Burwell is a Washington veteran, having served as chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and as OMB’s deputy director in the Clinton administration, where Obama noted she was on a team that presided over three consecutive budget surpluses.

She has been running the Wal-Mart Foundation, the retail giant’s philanthropic wing, and previously served as president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program, where Obama said she helped the organization “grow into a global force for good.”

“Sylvia knows her way around a budget,” Obama said. “But as granddaughter of Greek immigrants, she also understands that our goal when we put together a budget is not just to make the numbers add up. Our goal is also to reignite the true engine of economic growth, and that is a strong growing middle class, to offer ladders of opportunity for anybody willing to climb them.”

Wal-Mart president Mike Duke called Burwell a strong leader with a “clear vision for making big things happen.”

“She understands business and the role that business, government and civil society must play to build a strong economy that provides opportunity and strengthens communities across the country,” Duke said in a statement.

Burwell would replace acting OMB director Jeffrey Zients, who has been discussed as a contender for other top administration posts.

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