Obama agenda marches on despite controversies
Washington • Despite Democratic fears, predictions of the demise of President Barack Obama's agenda appear exaggerated after a week of cascading controversies, political triage by the administration and party leaders in Congress and lack of evidence to date of wrongdoing close to the Oval Office.
"Absolutely not," Steven Miller, the recently resigned acting head of the Internal Revenue Service, responded Friday when asked if he had any contact with the White House about targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for special treatment.
"The president's re-election campaign?" persisted Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
"No," said Miller.
The hearing took place at the end of a week in which Republicans repeatedly assailed Obama and were attacked by Democrats in turn yet sweeping immigration legislation advanced methodically toward bipartisan approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure "has strong support of its own in the Senate," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a member of the panel.
Across the Capitol, a bipartisan House group reported agreement in principle toward a compromise on the issue, which looms as Obama's best chance for a signature second-term domestic achievement. "I continue to believe that the House needs to deal with this," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is not directly involved in the talks.
The president's nominee to become energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, won Senate confirmation 97-0. And there were signs that Republicans might allow confirmation of Sri Srinivasan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, sometimes a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.
Separately, a House committee approved legislation to prevent a spike in interest rates on student loans on July 1. It moves in the direction of a White House-backed proposal for future rate changes to be based on private markets.
Even so, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said, "It's been a bad week for the administration."
Several Democratic lawmakers and aides agreed and expressed concern about the impact on Obama's agenda even though much of it has been stymied by Republicans for months already.
At the same time, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., voiced optimism that the IRS controversy would boost the push for an overhaul of the tax code, rather than derail it. "It may make a case for a simpler tax code, where the IRS has less discretion," he said.
Even before Obama began grappling with the IRS, the fallout from last year's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and from the Justice Department's secret seizure of Associated Press phone records, the two parties were at odds over steps to replace $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California offered a scathing response when asked if the controversies would hamper Obama's ability to win legislation from the Republican-controlled House. "Well, the last two years there was nothing that went through this Congress, and it was no AP, IRS or any other [thing] that we were dealing with."
"They just want to do nothing. And their timetable is never," she said of GOP lawmakers.