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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Solis (finally) confirmed as Labor Secretary

Senate Republicans finally gave up on obstructing Hilda Solis’ nomination as Secretary of Labor today, and the Senate easily confirmed her by an 80 to 17 vote. Chuck Grassley was among the 24 Republicans who voted to confirm Solis. Tom Harkin did not vote but clearly would have voted yes, along with all the other Democrats, had he been in the chamber.

Solis’ confirmation was tied up for weeks in committee after Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming put an anonymous hold on her nomination. Today even he voted yes, indicating that he had no solid grounds for blocking her from serving in the cabinet. I suspect Enzi was just trying to see whether he could trick Barack Obama into withdrawing her nomination as a gesture to Republicans.

Solis’s staunch longtime support for organized labor will make her a target for the right-wing noise machine, but who cares?

For more on why Solis is one of Obama’s best appointments so far, read this piece by Meteor Blades and this one by Paul Rosenberg, who notes,

People just loved talking about what a great political leader Hilda Solis is. I didn’t have nearly enough room to include all the good stuff that was said.

Calitics takes a first stab at handicapping the special election in California’s 32nd district, which Solis is vacating. It’s a safe Democratic seat but will have a competitive primary.

Obama has two cabinet positions left to fill. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius appears to be the leading candidate for Health and Human Services now, and former Washington Governor Gary Locke is reportedly Obama’s pick for Commerce.  

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Update on cabinet appointments and confirmations

The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general today by a vote of 75-21. Both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley voted yes, as expected. I always thought Holder would be confirmed, but I am pleasantly surprised that he was approved by a larger majority than Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I believe Holder will turn out to be one of President Barack Obama’s better cabinet appointments.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Obama appears ready to appoint Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a conservative Republican, as Secretary of Commerce. Chris Bowers concisely explains why this is an awful choice:

So, for some reason, in the wake of total Republican intransigence on the stimulus bill, the Obama administration will respond by putting a Republican in charge of one the federal departments overseeing the economy. Judd Gregg himself has said he will oppose the stimulus package. That is certainly an, um, interesting way for the Obama administration to incentivize Republican opposition. Oppose President Obama, and he will reward you by giving you a cabinet position.

It is worth noting what sort of ideas Judd Gregg has for the economy: a commission of center-right insiders operating in secret and circumventing Congress in order to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Republicans continue to hold up Hilda Solis’s confirmation as Labor Secretary, and Obama responds by appointing Gregg to the cabinet?

Democrats won’t even get a Senate seat out of the deal, because the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has promised to appoint a Republican to serve out Gregg’s term. The only upside is that the appointee may be easier to beat in 2010 than longtime incumbent Gregg would have been. But that’s not worth handing over control of the Commerce Department to a conservative, in my opinion.

All I can say is, Gregg better not screw around with the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a dispatch from bizarro world, Politico’s David Rogers still isn’t convinced that Obama is serious about bipartisanship, even though Gregg will become the third Republican in his cabinet and will be replaced by a Republican in the Senate:

Obama, while talking a good game about bipartisanship, is draining the Senate of the very talent he needs to achieve this goal.

If only Obama were merely “talking a good game about bipartisanship.”

Speaking of Senate Republicans, Kagro X put up a good post on prospects for a filibuster of the economic stimulus bill, and Chris Bowers posted a “whip count” here, concluding that

Overall, it seems highly likely that the stimulus will pass without Republicans forcing major changes. However, given the narrow margins, this is not a guarantee.

The Senate will likely vote on the bill on Wednesday. Grassley has already spoken out against what he calls the “stimulus/porkulus bill.”

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New level of scrutiny reveals more problems with Daschle

Update: On February 3 Daschle withdrew his nomination for secretary of Health and Human Services. It looks like he won’t be the “health care czar” in the White House either.

When Barack Obama announced plans to nominate Tom Daschle to run the Department of Health and Human Services, I agreed with Ezra Klein that the choice signaled Obama’s commitment to get comprehensive health care reform through Congress. I knew that Daschle’s wife was a longtime lobbyist, and that Daschle was not nearly as liberal as the right-wingers made him out to be. But we all know that the Senate will be the biggest obstacle to any good health care plan. Daschle knows that body’s procedures and the majority of its members extremely well.

The choice isn’t looking so good today.

Not paying taxes on the use of someone else’s limousine looks bad, but as we saw last week with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, failure to fully meet one’s tax obligations no longer seems to be a barrier to serving in the cabinet. (By the way, Daschle knew about this problem last summer but didn’t tell Obama’s vetting team.)

Many people might honestly not realize that if they use someone else’s car, they need to report the value of that service as taxable income. But what is Daschle’s excuse for overstating his tax-deductible charitable gifts and not reporting more than $83,000 in consulting income? If Bill Richardson was asked to step aside because of an investigation that hasn’t even proven wrongdoing, then Daschle should not get a pass for not paying his taxes.

As is so often the case in politics, though, what’s legal can be even more disturbing. From Politico:

Daschle made nearly $5.3 million in the last two years, records released Friday show, including $220,000 he received for giving speeches, many of them to outfits that stand to gain or lose millions of dollars from the work he would do once confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services.

For instance, the Health Industry Distributors Association plunked down $14,000 to land the former Senate Democratic leader in March 2008. The association, which represents medical products distributors, boasts on its website that Daschle met with it after he was nominated to discuss “the impact an Obama administration will have on the industry.”

This week, the group began openly lobbying him, sending him a letter urging him to rescind a rule requiring competitive bidding of Medicare contracts.

Another organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans, paid $20,000 for a Daschle speaking appearance in February 2007. It represents health insurance companies, which under Obama’s plan would be barred from denying coverage on the basis of health or age.

There was a $12,000 talk to GE Healthcare in August, a $20,000 lecture in January to Premier, Inc., a health care consulting firm, and a pair of $18,000 speeches this year to different hospital systems, among other paid appearances before health care groups.

The speaking fees were detailed in a financial disclosure statement released Friday, which showed that Daschle pulled down a total of more than $500,000 from the speaking circuit in the last two years, and $5.3 million in overall income.

These speaking engagements are legal, but it is an unacceptable conflict of interest for Daschle to have taken that much money from groups with a major financial stake in health care reform.

At Daily Kos nyceve examines one of those paid speeches and tells you why you should care: As UnitedHealth subsidiary Ingenix defrauded Americans, Daschle was its 2008 keynote speaker.

A lot of liberal bloggers are now calling for Obama to withdraw Daschle’s nomination and appoint Howard Dean to run HHS instead. As much as I like Dean, I do not think he’s the person to shepherd health care reform through Congress. But I agree that Obama needs to find a replacement for Daschle–the sooner, the better.

If Obama stands by Daschle, I suspect the Senate insiders’ club would confirm him, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Speaking of stalled confirmations, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming appears to be the Republican who is holding up Hilda Solis’s nomination for Secretary of Labor. This is purely ideological, based on Solis’ support for the Employee Free Choice Act. Solis has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Will Obama stand behind his choice for this cabinet position? The president expressed support for organized labor on Friday while signing executive orders to boost labor unions.  

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New thread on Obama appointments: labor, trade and science

News about several more key appointments by President-elect Barack Obama emerged today. His choice for Secretary of Labor will be Representative Hilda Solis of California, a bit of a surprise since she didn’t seem to be on any of the short lists leaked so far.

Solis comes from a union family and is a passionate supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act (also known as “card check,” which would make it easier to organize workers in non-union workplaces). Her voting record on labor issues is very solid.

TomP has more background on Solis, including YouTubes.

Ideally, Obama would have introduced his Labor Secretary along with the rest of his economic team to underscore the importance of the job, but I’m not going to quibble about the timing. This is a very solid appointment. I assume that Solis would not give up a safe House seat unless Obama had given her some assurances that he would keep his campaign promise to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Speaking of which, Representative Xavier Becerra of California declined Obama’s offer to become U.S. Trade Representative a few days ago. It was a smart move, as Becerra has a chance to become Speaker of the House someday. Today Obama offered that job to former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who had previously been mentioned as a possible candidate for Secretary of Transportation.

Obama made some campaign promises about replacing “free trade” with “fair trade,” but it’s not clear whether choosing Kirk signals a plan to retreat from those promises. The Wall Street Journal argued that

By naming Mr. Kirk, Mr. Obama nodded to the free-trade wing of the Democratic Party, which is small but has important ties to business.

Solis is firmly in the “fair trade” camp of the Democratic Party.

Obama’s chief science adviser will be the physicist John Holdren, an internationally-renowned expert on energy and climate issues. He is apparently a highly effective communicator as well as a brilliant scientist.

Obama also has chosen Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a very large agency within the Commerce Department. The Deep Sea News blog ran with the headline, “Obama Appoints Totally Awesome Marine Biologist to Head NOAA!”

Holy Mola! I can’t contain my excitement about this appointment. Her work in marine ecology and conservation is seminal and her involvement in science outreach is phenomenal. This marks a new era for NOAA indeed. I am very excited to see where she takes the agency. Yet again, another amazing Obama appointment. It feels so strange to have a president who respects science and appoints highly qualified people to important posts.

It’s looking more and more like Obama is serious about tackling the global warming problem. But can any of the highly qualified scientists he’s appointed talk him out of promoting “clean coal”?

UPDATE: Reuters says Obama “has chosen retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair as the top U.S. intelligence official” and will announce that decision soon.

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