For 15 years, Senator Carl Levin has taught Americans how our tax system really works. Hearings by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which he heads, have exposed modern accounting alchemy that turns the black ink of domestic profits into the red ink of tax-deductible expenses. Levin has shown how profits can be shipped tax-free to the Cayman Islands and, amazingly, how Apple figured out that profits booked in Ireland could be hidden from tax authorities of both Ireland and the United States in a cloak of invisibility. He exposed tax favors that were supposed to create jobs but ended up destroying them. He made Swiss bankers who solicited tax evasion on American soil squirm, destroying their claims that criminal conduct was the work of rogue bankers.
Congress’ abomination of a defense spending bill is all about pleasing weapons manufacturers and diverting funds to useless projects. Who says Democrats and Republicans can’t get along? This week president Obama signed a massive one-stop bill (a.k.a “Cromnibus”) that will keep the government funded until the end of the fiscal year. Among other things, the bill appropriates $1.1 trillion in funding—including over $550 billion for the Department of Defense.
In a rare show of defiance of the National Rifle Association, the Senate on Monday confirmed Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as surgeon general of the United States. Murthy's nomination had been stalled for nearly a year due to comments he made in support of stricter gun laws. Murthy is a Harvard- and Yale-educated physician, and has identified obesity and chronic disease as areas of focus for his tenure. He will be the first Indian American to hold the position. The Senate voted, 51-43, to confirm Murthy for the nation's top public health post, which has been vacant since July 2013.
President Obama nominated Vivek Murthy to be U.S. surgeon general on November 13, 2013. The Senate health committee signed off on him in February. On Monday, one year, one month, and two days after his selection, the Senate voted to confirm him to a post that had been vacant since July. Like so many of Obama's nominees, Murthy had fallen into a political vortex, subject to an opposition campaign by the NRA over his support for gun-control policies that are far from central to the job informally known as the nation's top doctor. But the absence of a surgeon general had become more conspicuous in recent months, as the Obama administration confronted an Ebola epidemic in West Africa that nearly sparked a public panic when it briefly reached U.S. shores.
The House Republican who could end up undoing a District of Columbia voter referendum to legalize marijuana has a blunt message for residents of the capital city: If you don’t like it, move out. “That’s the way the Constitution was written,” Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland said in an interview Wednesday. “If they don’t like that oversight, move outside of the federal district to one of the 50 states that is not covered by the jurisdiction of Congress as a whole.”
A handful of D.C. officials and activists began a longshot bid Wednesday to turn the tide in Congress , launching a sit-in on Capitol Hill over a federal budget deal poised to upend the city’s voter-approved measure to legalize marijuana. “This isn’t about marijuana, this isn’t about drug policy, this is about local democracy,” said Kimberly Perry, president of D.C. Vote, a group dedicated to full voting representation for the nation’s capital in Congress.
Republican senators are set to meet today to figure out one of those big things they need to figure out before the next Congress: whether to undo the “nuclear option” on executive and judicial nominations. This was procedural maneuver that majority leader Harry Reid made, finally, about a year ago, eliminating the 60-vote threshold to invoke cloture on judicial and executive branch nominations (except for Supreme Court justices). Reid triggered the move after years of Republicans filibustering more or less every nominee of any import for no reason other than to irritate Democrats and gum up the work of agencies and benches that Republicans do not care for. It was a much-needed modernization of the chamber’s rules in a polarized age.
Assuming Democrats and Republicans agree on a bill to fund the government by Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner has told his members that they will recess after that. Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s annual threats to keep the upper chamber in session through the holidays, the Senate is scheduled to do the same. But it shouldn’t. Instead, Reid should keep the Senate in session until Republicans take over next year in order to confirm as many executive branch and judicial nominees as possible.