WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans today protested Democrats’ recent change in the Senate nominee confirmation process by disrupting a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing for John Koskinen.
Koskinen is President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the head of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The IRS, an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department, is supposed to help administer the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) premium tax credit program and other tax-related PPACA programs and provisions.
The Senate has followed a tradition that lets one opponent of a nomination keep a nomination from getting to the floor for a vote with a filibuster, or a continuous round of debate. To end a filibuster, supporters have had to round up 60 votes.
In November, Democrats decided to break with tradition and let the Senate end a filibuster over an executive branch nomination and most judicial nominations with a majority vote. The change does not apply to bills or to Supreme Court nominations.
Republican senators protested the change in rules today by cutting the Koskinen hearing short, by invoking a little-used rule that prohibits Senate committees from meeting later than two hours after the Senate starts its daily session. The Senate opened at 10 a.m., so the Finance Committee’s hearing, which was interrupted by several votes in the Senate floor, was abruptly stopped at noon.
In the past, committees have routinely waived the hearing cut-off rule.
In spite of the sudden end of the hearing, it appears likely the Senate will confirm Koskinen — a 74-year-old turnaround specialist — to a five-year term, which would last beyond Obama’s stay in office.
Both Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the committee’s top Republican, said they support Koskinen’s nomination.
Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said he will re-schedule the conclusion of Koskinen’s hearing. Baucus said he hopes the committee will quickly approve Koskinen’s nomination, sending it to the full Senate. The IRS has been without a confirmed commissioner for more than a year.
“Mr. Koskinen has a history of succeeding in demanding roles,” Baucus said. “He is the right person to take on this challenge, and with filing season approaching, the IRS needs its leader in place.”
The IRS came under fire in May when agency officials acknowledged that agents had improperly targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. The Justice Department and three congressional committees, including the Finance Committee, launched investigations.
The investigations, which are ongoing, have shown that IRS workers in a Cincinnati office started singling out conservative political groups in the spring of 2010, and continued to do so until 2012. IRS supervisors in Washington oversaw the targeting, but there has been no evidence released so far that anyone outside the IRS knew about the targeting or directed it.