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Obama agenda slowed by delayed nominations and confirmations

Whether President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda picks up some momentum depends partly on him persuading senators, once they return to Washington after a week off, to confirm his nominees. 

On Wednesday, Obama nominated Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communications Commission and Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to be director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the secondary mortgage markets and the troubled government-sponsored corporations, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. 

Apart from Watt and Wheeler, it’s some nominations already in the pipeline that are slowing down implementation of Obama’s agenda.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

President Barack Obama shakes hands with his nominee for the Federal Housing Finance Authority director, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., Wednesday, May 1, 2013, in the State Dinning Room of the White House in Washington.

Two of those nominations have senatorial holds on them, which prevents a confirmation vote until the senator’s concerns are satisfied.

Marilyn Tavenner, Obama’s choice to be head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has a hold on her nomination placed by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who objects to the Obama administration reducing funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a provision in the Affordable Care Act that he championed. Funds that would have gone to prevention are being shifted to efforts to set up the new health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges.

Harkin spokeswoman Kate Frischmann said the senator “continues to believe that funding to implement the exchanges should not and need not come at the expense of prevention efforts, which are critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act. In that regard, we expect communication to be ongoing.”

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency, which has broad regulatory powers over manufacturing and the energy sector, is waiting for a new boss.

Despite some setbacks, President Obama conveys that there is still more he can get done. NBC's Tracie Potts reports.

Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nominee to be EPA administrator, is facing a hold on her nomination by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Blunt is protesting the fact that the EPA and other federal agencies can agree on facts leading to an environmental impact statement that would allow the building of a long-delayed levee and flood control project in his state, the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project.

Obama, who served in the Senate for less than four years, is seeing again the power of one senator to assert his prerogatives.

Other important nominations are waiting in the pipeline or not yet made:

  • Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan to serve as a judge on the powerful Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit - -the court which among other power decides the fate of many rules issued by the EPA, the FCC and other federal regulators. Although Srinivasan had a very successful Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing three weeks ago, no date has yet been set by the committee for a vote to move his nomination to the Senate floor. So far, after nearly four and a half years in the White House, Obama has not gotten to see any nominee confirmed to that influential court.
  • Three more promised nominations by Obama to the Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit -- which were mentioned to reporters by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid three weeks ago -- haven’t been announced yet.
  • Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez: Although Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, has threatened to block the Perez nomination, it is scheduled to get a vote in Harkin’s HELP Committee next week.
  • Richard Cordray, to whom Obama gave a recess appointment in 2012 to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board. Obama has now nominated Cordray again to head the CFPB but Republican senators insist on changes in the structure of that agency and have said they will not allow a vote on Cordray.

Obama spokesman Jay Carney said at his briefing Wednesday, “There's still an effort to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Board, which is doing enormously beneficial work on behalf of consumers,” referring to a lawsuit pending in federal court in Washington to challenge the legality of Cordray’s actions. Obama recess-appointed Cordray on the same day in 2012 that he recess-appointed three members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The federal appeals court in Washington has ruled Obama’s NLRB appointments to be illegal since, it said, there was no recess at the time Obama made his recess appointments. 

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