The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 17, 2013

Senate nomination pact averts meltdown _ for now

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan Senate pact has smoothed the confirmation path for a batch of President Barack Obama's nominations and removed, for now, a Democratic threat to impose procedural changes weakening minority Republicans' clout. Yet there are no guarantees that the conflict won't flare anew the next time a White House appointment stirs controversy.

A day after both parties celebrated an agreement averting a bitter fight over Senate rules, the chamber planned to vote Wednesday on one of Obama's picks, Fred Hochberg to be president of the Export-Import Bank.

Also possible this week are roll calls on Labor Secretary-designate Tom Perez and Gina McCarthy, Obama's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Tuesday, Republicans agreed to allow quick votes on seven Obama selections by simple majority margins, rather than forcing Democrats to garner 60 votes to succeed. Hours later, the Senate by 66-34 approved the first of those appointments, confirming Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — after Republicans had blocked him for nearly two years as they demanded changes in the agency's structure and financing.

In a written statement, Obama thanked Senate leaders for working out their dispute but criticized his opponents for using "purely political reasons" to stall the nominations.

"In the weeks ahead, I hope the Congress will build on this spirit of cooperation to advance other urgent middle-class priorities" like revamping immigration laws and keeping student loan interest rates from rising, Obama said.

In exchange for the GOP concessions on the nominations, Democrats agreed to drop their effort to change the chamber's rules. Obama also submitted two new nominees for a pair of labor posts after Republicans adamantly opposed his initial picks.

"Does that mean it will last forever? I don't know about that," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of the accord. But he added, "We have a new start for this body, and I feel very comfortable with it."

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