Neera Tanden Tapped for OMB Director: “I’m Here Today Because of Social Programs”

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In a series of nominations for the economic branch of his administration, President-Elect Joe Biden has appointed Neera Tanden as the next director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

On Dec. 1, Tanden accepted the position and laid out the importance of the OMB, which oversees financial decisions within the executive branch:

In her speech, Tanden recounted her parents’ divorce when she was very young, leaving Tanden and her siblings to be raised by a single mother:

“My mom was left on her own with two young children, and without a job. She faced a choice: Return to India at a time where divorce was stigmatized and the opportunities for her and her children would be limited. Or, keep fighting for her American dream. She stayed. And America came through for her when times were tough.”

“We relied on food stamps to eat; we relied on Section 8 housing vouchers to pay the rent; we relied on the social safety net to get back on our feet,” she continued. “This country gave her a fair shot to reach the middle class, and she made it work.”

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Speaking alongside the president and vice president-elect, Tanden continued, “I’m humbled and honored by the trust you’ve placed in me to work with this talented team on behalf of the American people. I’m especially proud to work alongside leaders who understand that budgets are not abstractions. They are a reflection of our values. They touch our lives in profound ways, and sometimes they make all the difference.

“Now it is my profound honor to help shape those budgets and programs, to keep lifting Americans up, to pull families back from the brink, to give everybody the fair chance my mom got and that every single person deserves. I believe so strongly that our government is meant to serve all the American people. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. All of whom deserve to know their government has their back.”

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Tanden would be the first South Asian American director of the OMB, and the first woman of color to hold the position. As the daughter of an immigrant single mother, having first-hand experience relying on social welfare, Tanden understands how social safety nets can be crucial to protecting American families’ well-being and dignity.

Her most recent experience includes her role as president and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP), “an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action.” She previously served as COO.

During the Obama administration, Tanden was a director of domestic policy and a Department of Health and Human Services senior adviser for health reform, championing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout its development.

Some Republicans—such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Texas Sen. John Cornyn—have expressed criticism of Biden’s picking Tanden, claiming she uses harsh words online. Many see this stance as hypocritical, considering the current head of the Republican party throws around insults like “horseface,” “phony,” and “slob” casually.

Biden has expressed his faith in her as “a brilliant policy mind with critical, practical experience across government. … Above all, she believes what I believe: A budget should reflect our values.”

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.