By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) - The Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to confirm former Wal-Mart Foundation President Sylvia Mathews Burwell as White House budget director, giving President Barack Obama another negotiator in his dealings with Congress to replace automatic budget cuts and shrink deficits.
The 96-0 vote marks the first time that the White House has had a fully confirmed budget director since January 2012, when Jack Lew, now Treasury Secretary, left the position to become Obama's chief of staff.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had been run during last year's tense "fiscal cliff" tax hike negotiations by Jeffrey Zients, who had stepped in as acting director.
Burwell had served as deputy director of OMB during the last years of the Clinton administration at a time when the U.S. government ran several years of budget surpluses.
After Clinton left office, she worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation before joining the philanthropic arm of Wal-Mart Stores Inc in 2012. In this capacity, she oversaw the distribution of nearly $1 billion in Wal-Mart contributions to projects around the world such as fighting hunger and empowering women in 2011.
"Sylvia shares my commitment to growing our economy, shrinking our deficits in a balanced way, and reigniting a rising, thriving middle class," Obama said in a statement. "Her experience will be especially important as we continue our efforts to replace the indiscriminate budget cuts that are already starting to cost jobs, hurt families and inconvenience Americans."
Obama in recent weeks has been reaching out to lawmakers in both parties to find a more sustainable fiscal path ahead of a summer deadline to raise the U.S. debt limit.
But Republicans have rejected any additional taxes on wealthy Americans, one of Obama's key demands, while liberal Democrats have criticized his proposals to reduce future cost-of-living increase for Social Security and other programs.
But Burwell's unanimous confirmation marks a significant change from the bruising battles over some of Obama's other recent high-profile nominees, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.