On Monday, all 100 senators gathered in the Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol to discuss Democratic Leader Reid's proposal to weaken the Senate filibuster when it comes to confirming the president's Cabinet-level and agency nominees. Reid's proposal would have lowered the number of votes necessary to end debate on a Cabinet-level or agency nominee from 60 votes to 51. It was being referred to as the "nuclear option" because it would destroy Senate tradition and severely limit debate for whichever party is in the minority in the Senate. I opposed this procedural move because it would have had major consequences for both parties going forward. I am glad both sides were able to negotiate a deal to avert the nuclear option.
This negotiation included a vote on confirmation of Thomas Perez to be secretary of the Department of Labor. Mr. Perez was nominated by President Obama on March 18, 2013. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), and as the senior Republican for the labor subcommittee that has jurisdiction over this nomination, I attended Perez's nomination hearing and asked questions on April 18, 2013. Following the hearing, I voted against his nomination in the HELP Committee, because I have very serious concerns regarding his leadership style, judgment and the policies he may pursue. I spoke on the floor of the Senate yesterday before his confirmation vote to say that I remain concerned about this nominee as Mr. Perez has still failed to comply completely with a subpoena issued on April 10, 2013, from the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the House of Representatives, Darrell Issa.
Therefore, I voted "no" on cloture and "no" on the final vote for Thomas Perez, because this is a time where we need all the answers. I think it is important that we retain a strong Senate filibuster to serve as leverage for the minority party to get all the answers people need to know so that when we vote to approve or to deny an appointee, it is based on all the facts. In the end, Perez was confirmed to be Secretary of Labor by a vote of 54 to 46.
Department of Education Role in Implementation of Obamacare
During a recent interview, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that the Department of Education will be assisting with the dissemination of information of the President's health care law. Additionally, he indicated that there is a team at the Department of Education currently helping with the implementation.
Therefore, this week, Sen. Chambliss and I joined several of our Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan questioning why the Department of Education is actively helping to implement Obamacare.
In the letter, we commented that, "While we understand that the effects of the President's health care law will be felt by parents, teachers, and their families, we are unfamiliar with how the Department of Education's involvement in implementation will further the mission of educating our nation's students." The letter, led by former Secretary of Education, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was signed by a total of 19 Senators.
The Department of Education is one of several agencies outside of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Treasury that, according to recent news reports, is actively engaged in promoting and the implementation of Obamacare, even though the health care law is unrelated to the agencies' core missions.
Last month, I joined several of my Republican colleagues in writing a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) questioning its actions of using its time and resources to enroll Americans in health insurance marketplaces created by Obamacare. The letter came in response to the FDA sending a notice to families, individuals, small businesses and clinicians promoting insurance market changes in the new health care law. We wrote that FDA communications should reflect the agency's actual statutory mission.
What's on Tap?
Next week, the Senate is scheduled to vote on whether to proceed with debate on the first of the Senate's Fiscal Year 2014 spending bills to reach the floor, the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill, S.1243. Additionally, the Senate is expected to move forward on a proposal to set federal student loan interest rates. Interest rates on subsidized Stafford student college loans increased from 3.4 percent to their original rate of 6.8 percent on July 1, 2013. I have co-sponsored and advocated for a bipartisan plan that permanently reduces loan rates for 100 percent of federal student loans and gives students and parents predictability.