Another Obama cabinet discussion thread

President Barack Obama announced today that his Chief of Staff Jack Lew is his pick to replace Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary. I have low expectations, since Lew has been a “central player in two failed attempts at a grand bargain on deficit reduction with House Republicans.” The “grand bargain” would have paired token tax hikes on the wealthy with significant benefit cuts for middle-class and low-income Americans. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama did not rule out filibustering Lew’s nomination.

I was surprised to hear that Hilda Solis is leaving as Labor secretary. She was one of Obama’s better cabinet picks, but White House officials have undermined her on several issues, notably efforts to regulate child labor at agricultural facilities. Brad Plumer posted a good summary of Solis’ record.

According to the White House, the following cabinet members will stay on for now: Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. I’m concerned that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was not on that list.

Any comments about Obama’s cabinet and/or the “embarrassing as hell” lack of diversity in the president’s “inner circle” are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: I did not realize that the Commerce secretary position has been vacant for almost six months.

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Iowans welcome Labor Department retreat on farm youth work rules

The U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday that it will not seek to regulate agricultural work done by children under age 16. Several members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation welcomed the news. Their statements are after the jump, along with background on the proposed rules and the full statement from the Labor Department.

UPDATE: I’ve added Senator Tom Harkin’s comments below. He was the only Iowan in Congress to express concern about the government walking away from “regulations that were, at their core, about protecting children.”

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Good news for workers in 2010

Since few media outlets have a reporter assigned to the labor beat anymore, we’ve heard little this year about one of President Obama’s best cabinet appointments: Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

Tracy Kurowski wrote a good post at Blog for Iowa about the Department of Labor’s annual Statement of Regulatory and Deregulatory Priorities, released three weeks ago (full report here). The gist is that Solis is getting her department “back to the business of looking out for labor rather than commerce.” Some highlights are after the jump, but you should go read Kurowski’s whole post for more details and background.

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Senate finally confirms Sebelius; Grassley votes no

President Barack Obama’s cabinet is complete just in time for his 100th day in office, now that the Senate has confirmed Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services secretary by a vote of 65 to 31. Senator Chuck Grassley joined most of his Republican colleagues in voting no, citing her ties to George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who performs late-term abortions.

When Obama picked Sebelius I didn’t expect her confirmation to become controversial, since she is a popular Democratic governor in a conservative state. (Both of the Republican senators representing Kansas voted to confirm Sebelius.) However, anti-abortion groups have been fighting the nomination because when asked how much money Dr. Tiller had donated to her, Sebelius initially reported only his contributions to her campaign funds and not his contributions to her political action committee.

For a time Republicans threatened to filibuster Sebelius’s nomination, but they never appeared to have the votes to support a filibuster. Grassley indicated last week that although he opposed Sebelius, he would not have backed a filibuster of her nomination.

Republicans did manage to hold up her confirmation vote for a while. The silver lining behind that obstructionist cloud was that Sebelius remained governor long enough to veto a bill that would have paved the way for two huge coal-burning power plants in Kansas.

Sebelius’s 31 no votes in the Senate make her the second most-controversial Obama cabinet member. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was opposed by 34 senators, including both Grassley and Tom Harkin.

Earlier this year it seemed that Republican opposition would be strongest to Obama’s choice for attorney general, but Eric Holder drew only 21 no votes in the Senate. Grassley voted to confirm Holder despite some doubts, saying he was influenced by his (then Republican) colleague Arlen Specter.

Grassley also voted for the fourth most controversial Obama nominee, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Seventeen Republican senators voted against her confirmation.

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