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Labor Nominee Still Faces GOP Hold

By Ed O'Keefe

Though most of President Obama’s nominees win easy approval from Congress, a handful have to wait around much longer for final vote. M. Patricia Smith, tapped to serve as the Labor Department’s solicitor of labor, is one of those nominees.

The Senate HELP Committee voted 13 to 10 in favor along party lines on Wednesday, but Republicans said they will place a hold on her nomination and revive their concerns on the Senate floor before a full vote.

At issue is Smith’s testimony before the committee in May about New York’s Wage Watch program. Republicans say she contradicted documents later obtained by staffers about the program, launched in January by the New York State Labor Commission to root out companies that do not pay proper wages. Smith told Senators that state officials developed the program, but documents later showed that a union and a public interest entity partially financed by unions were also involved. She also described the program as an educational effort, but documents show state and union officials described it as an enforcement program.

Republicans consider those and other misstatements about the program unacceptable.

"If it was her intention to mislead the Senate, then I must oppose her nomination," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). "If she unintentionally gave inaccurate statements to the Senate, then I question her ability to manage a large operation since she does not have a clear understanding of what is taking place in her own department, despite the speeches she gave. My lack of confidence in this nomination will not go away if she's confirmed." Smith is the first Obama nominee considered by the HELP Committee that he vocally opposed, Enzi said. He sent a letter to the White House in August asking Obama to withdraw Smith's nomination.

Democrats dismissed Republican concerns.

"Smith's misstatement was certainly a regrettable error, but it wasn't an attempt to hide anything from the committee," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said. Harkin replaced the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as committee chairman.

"I’ve been here 25 years -- and in the House -- having hearings. This is not something that’s unique or unusual. People get in here and they think they hear the question one way," he added. Harkin said Smith, who oversees an $11 billion state agency, should not be expected to know all the details of the Wage Watch Program, which cost $6,000.

"Her lack of firsthand knowledge of every conversation related to a small pilot program in no way reflects on her abilities as a leader."

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) later disputed Harkin's defense of Smith's misstatements.

“I don’t believe that ‘The dog ate my homework’ is a satisfactory answer in this case. I think we have to look at the documents," he said.

Despite the partisan vote on Smith, the committee unanimously approved Regina Benjamin to serve as U.S. surgeon general, Joseph Main to serve as assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, and William E. Spriggs to serve as Labor's assistant secretary for policy.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | October 7, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Congress  
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Comments

Mike Enzi should refrain from commenting on anything regarding truth and ethics. Furthermore, the reason for his hold falls woefully short of passing the laugh test.

If all executives were required to have detailed knowledge of a program equaling less than one thousandth of one percent of their budget, no would or could do the job.

Posted by: st50taw | October 7, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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