Congress OKs new IRS chief, ends turbulent year

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm •  Published: December 20, 2013
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WASHINGTON (AP) — A cross Congress ended its business for the year Friday as the Senate approved a new boss for the troubled Internal Revenue Service but remained slowed and bitterly riven over majority Democrats' weakening of Republicans' power to filibuster.

Before leaving town, senators voted 59-36 to approve President Barack Obama's nomination of John Koskinen, a retired corporate and government turnaround expert, to become IRS commissioner. The tax collection agency is still reeling from this spring's revelations that its agents targeted tea party and other conservative groups for especially rigorous reviews when they sought tax-exempt status.

The Senate also moved Janet Yellen to the brink of becoming the first woman to head the Federal Reserve, voting 59-34 to end debate on her nomination. The chamber plans to confirm her to the powerful post when it returns from its holiday break Jan. 6.

Next year's congressional elections make major legislation unlikely. But for now, the two parties closed the book on a petulant 2013 by engaging in tit-for-tat blockades of each other that typified much of the year.

Senate Republicans derailed Democratic efforts to quickly extend expiring unemployment benefits and tax breaks for commuters who use mass transit. And the GOP prevented Democrats from formally keeping scores of judicial, ambassadorial and agency nominations before the Senate.

Senate rules require that unapproved nominations be returned to the White House at the end of a congressional session, a requirement lawmakers sometimes waive.

"The normal way the Senate has operated for a couple of hundred years has been destroyed this year," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., referring to the Democratic-imposed changes in filibusters as he blocked the nominations request. "And to ask that normalcy come about now is just beyond the pale."

"I understand that we're at a point of great emotions and feelings, stress in the Senate" over the filibuster changes, said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois. "Unfortunately, it appears we're going to stay in that state for at least a short period."

Durbin was running the Senate Friday because Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was hospitalized overnight after complaining about not feeling well. Reid, 74, who had a mild stroke in 2005, was released from a Washington hospital late Friday after treatment for exhaustion.

Earlier this week, Congress approved legislation setting spending limits for the next two years, all but ensuring there will be no government shutdowns during that period. But that bipartisan achievement was overshadowed in a year that featured repeated clashes between the parties.

Last month, Democrats rammed through a change allowing filibusters — procedural delays — to be ended by a simple majority vote of senators for nearly all nominations, instead of 60 votes.

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