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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Obama Signs Law Exempting Many Appointees From Senate Approval


A backlog that has left many government agencies without presidential appointees for months at a time may ease a bit because President Obama signed legislation on Friday exempting scores of government positions from Senate confirmation.

Under the new law, 166 senior government officials will no longer have to win Senate approval, allowing the president to put them in place as soon as he has made his selections. Supporters of the change said it would speed the formation of a new administration when a president takes office and allow the Senate to focus on positions of greater consequence.

The appointment and confirmation process has slowed considerably in modern times as more and more positions have been subjected to Senate scrutiny. The number of senior government posts requiring Senate confirmation has grown from 280 to 1,400 in the last half century, and the average confirmation time has increased to more than 10 month s from two and a half months, according to No Labels, a bipartisan advocacy group that has urged reforms.

The new law, introduced last year by Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, had the support of both the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The Senate passed it last summer 79 to 20, with all the dissenters being Republican.

The proposal then lingered for more than a year in the Republican-controlled House as some conservatives expressed concern that Congress would be surrendering power to the executive branch. The better solution, critics said, was to streamline the Senate review process.

“Congress should not relinquish the Senate's constitutional duty to consent unless it concludes that such a check is of no value because the office itself is of too little or no authority or consequence,” which was not the case with the positions listed in the bill, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, argued on its Web site. “Lawmakers concerned about the pace of the nomination process should look inward.”

But when the House took up the measure on July 31, it drew bipartisan support, with some Republicans perhaps looking ahead to a possible Mitt Romney administration come January.

“There is little dispute that the current nominations process has grown too cumbersome and complicated, in some cases discouraging qualified individuals from seeking leadership positions,” Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said on the House floor. On average, he said, just 35 of the 100 most critical positions were filled within the first 100 days of a new administration.

The House passed the bill 261 to 116. All but one of the nay votes came from Republicans.

The measure will not solve the long delays in the nomination process for most top positions, which remain subject to Senat e votes. Even before nominations get to the Senate these days, they have typically been delayed by extensive and lengthy vetting by the administration itself, wary of past scandals that have torpedoed would-be senior officials. But the new law may help Cabinet secretaries and agency directors fill out their teams faster.

Many of the newly exempted positions are not for policymakers but assistant secretaries for public affairs, legislative affairs or management. Among the other positions now excluded are the director of the Selective Service, members of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the chief medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security, the director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and the treasurer of the United States.

Also now freed of Senate approval are the appointment or promotions for 2,5 36 members of the Public Health Service and 319 members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officer corps, which generally have been voted on as a block.

Sunday Breakfast Menu, Aug. 12


The decision is in: Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin is Mitt Romney's running mate.

After the announcement on Saturday, Mr. Romney kicked off a bus tour with Mr. Ryan, and the Sunday talk shows will be discussing what the pick means for the presidential race. By Saturday afternoon, the programs were filling up their guest lists with advisers and representatives from both campaigns, eager to frame the discussion.

Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who was considered a likely choice to be Mr. Romney's vice-presidential pick, will be on ABC's “This Week” along with David Axelrod, senior adviser to the Obama campaign.

Mr. Axelrod is also scheduled to appear on CNN's “State of the Union,” along with Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to the Romney campaign, and Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who some believed had been on Mr. Romney's list of potential running mates.

Stephanie Cutter, President Obama's deputy campaign manager, and Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, will give their views on the Republican vice-presidential pick on CBS's “Face the Nation.” They will be joined by Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Republican presidential candidate.

“Fox News Sunday” will have Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, discussing Mr. Ryan. Mr. McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will also discuss developments in Syria and Iran. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, will share her thoughts on the state of the presidential race.

NBC's “Meet the Press” will also feature coverage of Mr. Romney's No. 2 pick.

Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, will talk about the record drought facing farmers on C-Span's “Newsmakers,” explaining the administration's response to the cri sis and the farm bill awaiting Congressional approval.

Bloomberg's “Political Capital” has an interview with William S. Cohen, former defense secretary.

And Univision's “Al Punto” features Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, discussing gun control in the wake of the recent shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin. The program will include a conversation about the new government policy allowing young illegal immigrants to apply for work permits.

Paul Ryan: A Reading List


With the news Saturday, there will be tons of coverage of Representative Paul D. Ryan, but I thought it was also worth collecting some of the detailed articles that have been written about Mr. Ryan over the past few years. We welcome other suggestions in the comments section.

Jackie Calmes's article in February about the Bowles-Simpson budget in The Times contained details about Mr. Ryan's continuing debate with President Obama.

Mark Landler and Jonathan Weisman have both profiled Mr. Ryan in The Times this year.

In a July article in The Weekly Standard praising Mr. Ryan, Stephen Hayes called him “the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.”

In an April article in New York magazine critical of Mr. Ryan, Jonathan Chait said he had “thoroughly seized control of the Republican agenda.” Mr. Chait also wrote in detail about Mr. Ryan for The New Republic.

Ryan Lizza's recently profiled Mr. Ry an in The New Yorker.

Ross Douthat and David Brooks, of The Times's Op-Ed page, have both written about Mr. Ryan, as has - from a different perspective - Paul Krugman.

Ezra Klein of The Washington Post conducted two Q&A's with Mr. Ryan in 2010, on economic policy and health policy.

In National Review in 2011, Jonah Goldberg urged Mr. Ryan to run for president.

In a 2011 column, I noted that Mr. Ryan's budget was daring in its specificity and timid in its exempting older Americans from sacrifice. In 2010, I looked at Mr. Ryan's vision of government.

A Closer Look at the Ryan Budget


Representative Paul D. Ryan has proposed huge changes in entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which insure more than 100 million people and account for more than one-fifth of the federal budget.

The changes would help the federal government predict and control its costs, but could shift some costs to beneficiaries and to states.

The Republican-controlled House has twice approved Mr. Ryan's proposals as part of budget blueprints, but the Senate has rejected them.

Democrats see Mr. Ryan's plan for Medicare as a political gift. In automated telephone calls and radio advertisements, the Democratic Party has accused Republicans of favoring “millionaires over Medicare.”

Medicaid and Medicare are now open-ended entitlements. Anyone who meets the eligibility criteria is entitled to benefits defined in detail by federal law. Spending increases automatically with health costs, the number of beneficiarie s and the amount of care they receive.

Mr. Ryan would change the nature of the entitlement under both programs. He would convert the federal share of Medicaid into a block grant. The federal government would give each state a lump sum of money to care for low-income people. States would also be given much more discretion over use of the money.

Mr. Ryan would repeal President Obama's health care law, which calls for the expansion of Medicaid to cover many more people.

To rein in Medicare costs, Mr. Ryan proposes fundamental changes in the structure of the program: The federal government would contribute a fixed amount of money on behalf of each beneficiary, and future beneficiaries could use the money to buy private insurance or to help pay for traditional Medicare.

In addition, the growth of Medicare would be capped. In general, spending would not be allowed to increase more than the growth of the economy, plus one-half o f one percentage point - a slower rate of increase than Medicare has historically experienced.

Analyzing a slightly different version of Mr. Ryan's proposal last year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that “most elderly people would pay more for their health care.” The additional costs, averaging perhaps $6,400 for a typical beneficiary in 2022, would require older Americans to “reduce their use of health care services, spend less on other goods and services, or save more in advance of retirement,” the report said.

Mr. Ryan has tweaked his Medicare proposal in the last year, but Democrats are sure to cite the budget office report.

Under his proposal, Mr. Ryan said, “there would be no disruptions” in the traditional Medicare program for people who are currently enrolled or become eligible in the next 10 years.

Democrats say Mr. Ryan's plan would destroy Medicare. He says it would save the program, whose hospital insurance tr ust fund is expected to run out of money in 2024.

Live Updates: Romney Chooses Paul Ryan as Running Mate


Mitt Romney is scheduled to announce his vice-presidential candidate on Saturday in Norfolk, Va., with several signs pointing toward Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin emerging as the leading candidate for the position.

- Live Dashboard

The Weekend Word: Drought


In Today's Times:

  • Once a dominant political presence in Wisconsin, Tommy G. Thompson now finds himself in a tough race for the Republican nomination for Senator Herb Kohl's open seat. Monica Davey reports on the primary contest that is pitting the conservative, four-term former governor against three opponents who have tried to race to his right.

President Obama's Weekly Address:

  • Pointing out that farmers are suffering through one of the country's worst droughts in a half-century, Mr. Obama enumerated the measures his administration has taken to offer some relief, including providing access to emergency loans and government land. And one week after Congress adjourned for its August recess, he called on lawmakers to do their part. “They need to pass a farm bill that not only helps farmers and ranchers respond to these kinds of disasters, but also makes necessary reforms and gives them some ce rtainty year-round,” Mr. Obama said.

Washington Happenings:

  • Mr. Obama travels to Chicago on Saturday, where he will attend five campaign events on Sunday, including one at his residence.

Romney to Announce Running Mate Saturday


Mitt Romney is scheduled to announce his vice presidential candidate on Saturday in Norfolk, Va., ending a four-month search for a running mate on the opening day of a four-day bus tour through four critical battleground states.

Mr. Romney is set to disclose the selection at 8:45 a.m. as he tours the U.S.S. Wisconsin, the campaign announced Friday evening. The choice of the location was curious, given that Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was among the finalists for the position.

Two top advisers to Mr. Romney declined to provide more details late Friday, saying that Mr. Romney valued the secretive process that has been carried out throughout the four-mont h search for a running mate. One senior Republican close to the selection process said that the U.S.S. Wisconsin was picked intentionally by the Romney campaign.

Mr. Romney and his running mate are scheduled to travel to North Carolina, Florida and Ohio in the coming days on an introduction tour leading up to the Republican convention at the end of the month in Florida.

Obama Defends Clinton Aide at Dinner for Muslim Americans


President Obama came to the defense of an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday night, countering conservatives who have called her a security risk because of supposed ties to Islamic extremists.

Hosting an iftar dinner at the White House marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Mr. Obama singled out Huma Abedin, the deputy chief of staff to Mrs. Clinton who has come under fire from a handful of House Republicans who made unsubstantiated suggestions that she was among Muslim Americans with terrorist ties who have infiltrated the government.

Mr. Obama called Ms. Abedin “a good friend” and said she has “worked tirelessly in the White House, in the U.S. Senate and most exhau stingly at the State Department, where she has been nothing less than extraordinary in representing our country and the democratic values that we hold dear. Senator Clinton has relied on her expertise and so have I.”

He added: “The American people owe her a debt of gratitude because Huma is an American patriot and an example of what we need in this country â€" more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit. So on behalf of all Americans, we thank you so much.”

While Mr. Obama did not directly address the allegations, his meaning was clear and his mention was greeted with applause by the guests.

Ms. Abedin, who was born in the United States to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother and raised in Saudi Arabia, is married to former Representative Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who resigned after sending lewd pictures of himself to women. She has worked for Mrs. Clinton since her days as first lady in the 1 990s and former President Bill Clinton presided at her wedding, describing her as almost like a daughter.

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the former presidential candidate, and four other House Republicans, sent a letter to the State Department in June asserting that three relatives of Ms. Abedin, including her long-dead father, were “connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.”

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican who lost the presidency to Mr. Obama in 2008, spoke out strongly on behalf of Ms. Abedin in a floor speech last month, denouncing the innuendo as “specious and degrading attacks” that “need to stop.”

Tithing, Dues, Pledges and Your House of Worship


No matter which God you worship, your religious community is probably always just a little bit hurting for funds - and constantly in search of a better way to collect a little bit more a bit more often.

Part of the reason I wanted to write about how houses of worship get paid for in my column this weekend is that I hoped that readers would come here to share what's worked in their community. My hunch is that we can learn a lot from each other, even if we don't all share the same beliefs.

Sure, every religion has its share of shame and scandal and poor stewardship of funds. But that's not relevant to the discussion of the most practical way for those whose faith persists to make sure their grandchildren can worship in the same place they do someday.

Tithing, Dues, Pledges and Your House of Worship


No matter which God you worship, your religious community is probably always just a little bit hurting for funds - and constantly in search of a better way to collect a little bit more a bit more often.

Part of the reason I wanted to write about how houses of worship get paid for in my column this weekend is that I hoped that readers would come here to share what's worked in their community. My hunch is that we can learn a lot from each other, even if we don't all share the same beliefs.

Sure, every religion has its share of shame and scandal and poor stewardship of funds. But that's not relevant to the discussion of the most practical way for those whose faith persists to make sure their grandchildren can worship in the same place they do someday.

Republicans Pick Ballot Replacement for Ohio Congressman


David Joyce will replace Representative Steven C. LaTourette as the Republican nominee in Ohio's 14th Congressional District, local party leaders said on Friday.

Mr. Joyce, a county prosecutor, enters the race for the northeast Ohio district as the favored candidate after being selected by the local party chairmen and central-committee secretaries from the seven counties that make up the district. Mr. LaTourette announced last month that he would retire from Congress at the end of his current term, his ninth.

The announcement on Friday was immediately welcomed by Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the arm of the party charged with finding and grooming House candidates.

“As a prosecuting attorney, David Joyce has worked on the toughest cases in Geauga County to ensure the safety of his community,” he said. “It is that tireless effort to d o what is best for his community and preserve the free-enterprise system that will serve him well in Congress.”

“In a seat that favors independent leaders, David Joyce is the best candidate to support the pro-growth policies that are needed to help Ohio small businesses create more jobs,” he added.

Mr. Joyce, a former public defender, has been the Geauga County prosecutor since 1988. Mr. LaTourette, 58, is considered one of the last moderates left in Congress. He cited as the reason for his departure a partisan atmosphere that made it impossible for lawmakers to find common ground on policy issues.

Barring any movement in the field, Mr. Joyce is favored to beat Dale Virgil Blanchard, a Democratic candidate who is making his 10th run for the seat. Two other candidates - Elaine Mastromatteo of the Green Party and David Macko, a Libertarian - are also on the ballot.