ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WRAs the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jim Nussle concedes that he's something of a budget geek. "It's embarrassing," he tells us, "but, yes, it does get me going." Yet the former Iowa congressman and House Budget Committee chair isn't an introvert. He visits the coffee shop back home in Manchester to get homespun advice on how to run the government. "It's kind of a gut check," he says, "because I think we get wrapped around the axle out here sometimes on a billion here and a billion there."
His regular-guy, no-nonsense approach to the job has been a trademark of President Bush's three other OMB chiefs. Mitch Daniels is now governor of Indiana, Josh Bolten is Bush's chief of staff and a rock band leader, and Rob Portman, also an ex-congressman, kayaked. The Nussle difference: He's a battler who doesn't mind throwing a partisan punch, an effective tool with the president and Democrats battling over promised budget vetoes.
The fight is so hot that he's got little time for his "mental health" hobby: playing guitar. "I was in a band that impersonated the Blues Brothers," reveals Nussle. His role: John Belushi. He's eager for a new band, but Bolten hasn't invited him to join the Compassionates yet. "I think he must be a little snobby," jokes Nussle. "Maybe it could be that he plays a little bit older music."