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Political Notebook

Senate votes to ease path for executive appointees

June 30, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The Senate voted yesterday to ease a logjam of executive-branch nominations by removing about 200 federal jobs from the 1,200 requiring confirmation by the chamber.

If the House follows suit, the president can simply appoint his picks to the lower-level jobs, which include chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and assistant secretary of agriculture for public affairs.

Partisan tensions continue to block President Obama’s choices for a handful of top jobs, including secretary of commerce.

Republican leaders say they will try to prevent a vote on former Edison International chief executive John Bryson, Obama’s choice for commerce secretary, until the White House forwards to Congress for approval pending trade deals for South Korea, Panama, and Colombia. They also say they will not approve anyone to head a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, part of last year’s financial overhaul, until the bureau’s powers are restructured.

Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs panel, said presidents are hobbled by delays in getting executive-branch jobs filled. Some of the positions do not merit Senate consideration, and approval of today’s measure will free senators and future presidents to focus on prospective officeholders who make policy decisions, he said.

“It takes too long for an incoming president and a sitting president to get his team in place, and there are too many vacancies during the course of an administration,’’ said Lieberman, a Connecticut independent. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

Bachmann’s subsidies drawing some scrutiny
ST. PAUL — As Representative Michele Bachmann tours the country criticizing government as too big and too expensive, the Republican presidential candidate has come under mounting scrutiny over public dollars flowing to family business interests.

There’s $259,000 in federal subsidies paid since 1995 to a family farm of which Bachmann is a part owner. Another $30,000 went to Bachmann and Associates Counseling Clinic in the last five years from various Minnesota government agencies, including one small payment logged the day after the congresswoman’s official 2012 kickoff.

In addition, at least $137,000 came from Medicaid-backed programs for patients using the mental health clinic run by her husband, Marcus.

All of the money poured through legitimate channels. Bachmann maintains none of the farm subsidies wound up in her pocket, although she disclosed the income on her congressional financial disclosure forms. And most public payments to the clinic are connected to services it provided.

The arrangements threaten to pose image problems for Bachmann and could give rivals an opening to exploit as the campaign drags on. All week, Bachmann has been forced to explain how her talk of bloated government squares with a family that sometimes benefits from it.

Asked Monday about commodity subsidies for the Wisconsin family farm, she insisted that “none of the income goes to my husband and I. All of the income goes to the farm.’’

Campaigning in South Carolina yesterday, neither Michele nor Marcus Bachmann would discuss the money his clinic draws from the Medicaid program, which Minnesota officials administer using a mix of state and federal money. The payments were first reported by NBC News.

Instead, campaign press secretary Alice Stewart issued a statement saying it would be “discriminatory’’ for the clinic to turn away patients enrolled in the subsidized program.

“As a state-sponsored counseling service, Bachmann and Associates has a responsibility to provide Medicaid and medical assistance, regardless of a patient’s financial situation,’’ Stewart wrote.

It’s routine for Minnesota health providers to draw Medicaid payments, said Karen Smigielski, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Obama, chiding GOP, gets one little fact wrong
WASHINGTON — They grow up so fast. But not that fast, Mr. President.

In a news conference yesterday, President Obama twice referred to his oldest daughter, Malia, as being 13 years old.

Not quite. She’s 12.

Perhaps the president was already thinking ahead to Malia’s approaching birthday: She turns 13 on July 4.

Obama spoke about both of his daughters as he characterized congressional Republicans as procrastinators who get work done only at the last minute. The president is prodding Republicans to reach a deal on raising the national debt limit before the government taps out its borrowing ability on the expected date of Aug. 2.

“You know, Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time,’’ Obama said. “Malia’s 13, Sasha’s 10.’’ — ASSOCIATED PRESS