Obama ponders 'holds' and 'recess appointments' as Sen. Scott Brown arrives

By Al Kamen
Friday, February 5, 2010; A16

In the pre-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) days, officials in President Obama's administration batted away any inquiries about possible recess appointments of controversial administration nominees with the phrase "health-care reform first." No feather-ruffling of any senator before passage, they said -- need every vote.

But now that major health-care reform is pretty much toast, the question is back, especially now, with a recess coming up next week on Presidents' Day weekend.

Obama is the only president in the past three decades who has not used his recess-appointment authority by this point in his term. On the other hand, recent presidents, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, have used the authority sparingly in their first year, perhaps in part because it often takes some months to figure out whether it might yet be possible to get a nominee confirmed to a full-term job.

There may be another reason. As Loop Fans know, under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, anyone tapped over the coming recess could serve nearly two years -- until the end of the next session of Congress, essentially the end of 2011. But if Obama had recess-appointed someone, say, over the Thanksgiving break, that person could have served only through the 2010 session.

Bill Clinton exercised the prerogative once in his first 13 months. Jimmy Carter and George Bushes I and II recessed only a handful of appointees, many to part-time boards and such. Reagan had 38 recess appointees his first year, again mostly to part-time posts.

Obama, who used a few "holds" himself when he was a senator, chastised Republicans on Wednesday for using that maneuver to block so many of his nominees for reasons unrelated to their qualifications.

Stay tuned.

Good to the Corps

The Peace Corps on Thursday announced its annual rankings of colleges and universities sending it the most overseas volunteers, and George Washington University, for the second year in a row, came in first among medium-size schools -- 5,000 to 15,000 undergrads -- with 53 undergraduate alumni now serving. GW barely edged out American University (51 volunteers), followed by Cornell University (46), Miami University (43), and the College of William and Mary (40). Georgetown tied for eighth with 30 volunteers.

The University of Washington ranked first among large schools, with 101 undergrad alums now serving as volunteers. It was followed by the University of Colorado at Boulder (95), the University of California at Berkeley (89), Michigan State University (86) and the University of Florida (79).

For small schools (under 5,000 students), St. Olaf College led the group with 26 volunteers, followed by the University of Mary Washington (23) and Middlebury College (21). Tied for fourth were the University of Portland, the University of Puget Sound and Williams College (20 each). St. Mary's College of Maryland tied for seventh with 19 volunteers. Johns Hopkins University had 15.

The all-time leader for sending volunteers since the agency began in 1961 remained UC-Berkeley, with 3,412 volunteers, followed by the University of Wisconsin at Madison (2,906), the University of Washington (2,614), the University of Michigan (2,331) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (2,206).

The rankings for the top 25 schools in each size category can be found at http://multimedia.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/stats/schools2010.pdf.

A modest proposal

This week, everyone was all over Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and united in condemning the $700 billion Wall Street and banking bailout, the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). That's why you won't hear any opposition to a proposed 17 percent boost, from $48.4 million to $54.6 million, for the Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP), run by the hard-charging Neil M. Barofsky, who pledges to track and recoup every dime.

The increase, in the scheme of things, is chump change. And it includes the costs of expanding operations, including offices in New York and Los Angeles.

And let's not forget that these funds stimulate the economy, have a substantial multiplier effect and boost private-sector jobs. Last year, for example, about $14,000 went for SIGTARP badges and insignia, $22,000 for ammunition, and $39,000 for personal armor for SIGTARP agents.

In addition to job creation, maybe these outlays will help convince the thieves, grifters and con artists that Washington means business.

As fat-cat traders and bankers resist giving back our money, it may be necessary to fire a few rounds over their heads, maybe surround their fortified buildings.

Wait! How about some drones? Expensive? Sure. But in the current climate . . .

Ogden's dash

Friday is Deputy Attorney General David Ogden's last at the Justice Department. Unclear who'll replace him. In-house candidates include Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer, Civil Division chief Tony West and Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. Of that list, the well-liked Perrelli, President Obama's right-hand guy at the Harvard Law Review, is considered maybe the likeliest. Acting deputy for now is Gary Grindler, who's hired some help, but it's unclear whether he can get the Senate nod. Robert Litt, principal deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration and now general counsel to the director of national intelligence, is also mentioned.

Pandamania at State

"And finally, before taking your questions," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday, "we certainly wish a safe journey to Tai Shan as he departs the United States . . . for China. He is a dual citizen of . . . U.S.-born, of Chinese parents. He'll always have a close link to the United States and to schoolchildren across our country. But he is a tangible and furry manifestation of cooperation between the United States and China." Yeah, kinda like President Hu Jintao.

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