GOP’s blank spaces

Al Kamen
Columnist July 23, 2013

Like a meditating Buddhist monk, House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t want you to confuse his lack of movement with nothing going on. Here’s some evidence that he was serious when explaining this weekend that House Republicans not passing bills was an accomplishment.

Permit us a bit of lead-up for this one.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

In the annals of bill numbering, H.R. 1 is the slot usually used for a majority party’s top legislative priority — its No. 1 goal. By way of example, the Senate Democrats this Congress made an immigration reform bill their equivalent, S. 1.

Last Congress, House Republicans’ priorities were evident: H.R. 1 was a bill repealing the health-care law known as Obamacare (though we noted then that House leaders hadn’t come up with their lesser goals, as represented by H.R. 6 through 10).

But in this Congress, which began in January, the House Republicans’ No. 1 bill is . . . nothing. Not yet, at least.

H.R. 1 has a notation stating simply that the space is “Reserved for the Speaker.” Boehner announced this year that it’s being held open for a big tax-reform bill Republicans are crafting.

It’s unclear when that package will be ready for unveiling, though Boehner has called it one of House Republicans’ “highest priorities.”

The H.R. 2 slot is still open, too. At least they’ve got a Plan C — H.R. 3 is a bill that would allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We should not be judged by how many new laws we create,” Boehner told CBS’s Bob Schieffer in an interview that aired Sunday. “We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

Diversity in decline

As any baseball team will tell you, it’s good to have a farm team.

Back in his first term, President Obama put together the most diverse Cabinet ever. Thirteen of his 22 Cabinet-level members were white. There were seven women in all, four African Americans, three Asian Americans and two Latinos.

This time, 18 of the 22 jobs (assuming nominee Samantha Powers is confirmed as U.N. ambassador) are filled by white appointees. There are now eight women in the Cabinet — though that will go down to six with the departures next month of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills.

(It will go back up to seven if Latino organizations are successful in efforts to have a Hispanic woman named to lead the Small Business Administration.)

But so far there are only two African Americans, one Asian American and one Latino in the Cabinet — and two of those four are holdovers.

It’s not that the Obama administration didn’t make efforts to find minorities for those jobs. And there’s the increasingly serious problem that good candidates — especially those who know the confirmation process has spiraled out of control — are declining to participate.

One problem, a former administration official observed, is that the White House boxed itself in by having no minorities in the deputy posts after Cabinet members left the departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Labor, Energy, Commerce, Transportation and the Interior as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Minority groups have been pressing for more appointments at the deputy-secretary, undersecretary and assistant-secretary levels to increase the pool of experienced minorities when top jobs open up.

The administration points to examples of minorities successfully moving up to top jobs — Katherine Archuleta, a chief of staff to former labor secretary Hilda Solis, now runs the Office of Personnel Management, and the new labor secretary, Tom Perez, who had been an assistant attorney general.

Obama met Tuesday with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and, according to a White House summary, assured them he was committed to diversity in his administration.

Obama “has made it a priority to fill the ranks of his administration with appointees [with] diverse skills and backgrounds,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told us, so “future presidents can tap a personnel pipeline” of experienced and diverse candidates. In other words, they’re working on it.

Well, more top-level openings are likely in the next couple of years.

Catholic interests

The federal government’s massive contracting process aims to cross all t’s, dot all i’s. Even when it comes to military chaplains.

Take, for example the FedBizOps solicitation number: N4223714RC002X2, a Navy request for a Roman Catholic priest for the submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga.

There’s a long list of regs involving “convict labor” and “segregated facilities” and “affirmative action for workers with disabilities” as well as a “contractor policy to ban text messaging while driving.”

We thought that Web site an odd place to advertise for a priest — after all, you could just call the Archdiocese for the Military Services here in Washington.

But, as it turns out, there is a chronic shortage of Catholic military chaplains as aging priests hit the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62, and replacements are not, for now, available — though the number of seminarians in the pipeline has increased substantially.

So the Navy appears to be contracting out for help maybe from retired priests. Hey! What about recently retired Pope Benedict XVI ? He might be able to fill in maybe — part time.

Oh, wait. There’s something in the solicitation about the need to “Buy American”— and he’s German.

It’s go time

Today’s the final day to enter the Loop’s contest to predict when Attorney General Eric Holder will resign.

Get your entries in by midnight tonight — just send us your best guess for the date when Holder (or the administration) formally announces his departure.

Winners get a highly collectable Loop T-shirt. And a little glory.

Send entries — only one prediction per person — to intheloop@washpost.com, including your name, profession, mailing address, a phone number and T-shirt size (M, L or XL), in case you’re a winner.

Obama administration and congressional employees may enter “on background.”

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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