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.
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.
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.
The Senate confirmed Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the White House’s budget director for the past year, on Thursday as the 22nd secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. On a bipartisan vote of 78 to 17, senators approved Burwell to lead the government’s largest domestic department, ending a quick confirmation process that was devoid of the bitter partisanship surrounding the 2010 Affordable Care Act and the changes it is bringing to the U.S. health-care system.
The Senate confirmed Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the 22nd Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday. She will replace Kathleen Sebelius, who was heavily criticized for the flawed rollout of the government’s federal insurance exchange website HealthCare.gov.
Obamacare crossed the 7 million sign-ups milestone before the midnight deadline Monday, sparking angst and introspection among conservative policy wonks about the future of their quest to wipe the health care law off the books. Central to their dilemma is the emerging discovery that many people will end up benefiting from Obamacare. Despite the health care law's problems, unanswered questions and unknown costs, it can hardly be denied that millions of American are slated to reap the benefits of its insurance subsidies, the Medicaid expansion and beefed-up consumer protections.