Senate invokes new filibuster restrictions to confirm IRS chief

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The Senate voted Friday to confirm President Obama's pick to head the beleaguered Internal Revenue Service, which has been under intense congressional scrutiny over its treatment of Tea Party groups seeking tax exempt status.

John Koskinen was confirmed in a 59-36 vote, below the 60-vote approval threshold that would have been required before Senate Democrats changed the chamber's rules to prevent Republicans from continuing to block presidential nominees.

Obama immediately praised the confirmation, but Republicans mostly opposed it, in part because they are angry over the rules change and want a greater say in deciding who will next head the troubled tax agency.

In May, a Treasury Inspector General report found that the IRS had issued a "Be on the lookout" order for groups seeking tax exempt status with names that signaled a conservative bent, like "Tea Party" or "Patriot."

Many of the Tea Party groups that applied for tax exempt status had their applications delayed ahead of the 2012 presidential election, prompting some to suspect the targeting was politically motivated.

Congress has held numerous hearings on the matter and several top IRS officials were forced to resign because of it.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., led the GOP's failed opposition to Koskinen's confirmation, citing the ongoing congressional investigation into the IRS targeting.

“It’s unclear to me how seriously the White House is taking this investigation," McConnell said. "In many ways it seems to have treated the scandal more as a public relations problem to get past than a serious problem to solve.

"Now," McConnell added, "they just expect the elected representatives of the people to roll over and rubber stamp a new presidential nominee to head the IRS. They want Congress to forget what happened too, and just move on."

But five Republicans voted for Koskinen, who has a reputation as a government problem solver.

Koskinen, 74, was praised for leading the federal government in its preparation for "Y2K" issues ahead of the new millennium and was tapped to head the troubled housing agency Freddie Mac in 2008. From 2000 to 2003, he served as deputy mayor of the District of Columbia, which was at the time was struggling after years of mismanagement that resulted in the District being placed under the control of a federal oversight board.

Koskinen will take the place of another troubleshooter, Daniel Werfel, who Obama tapped at the height of the targeting scandal earlier this year.

"Throughout his career, John has always acted with the absolute integrity Americans demand from those in public service, and his strong leadership and unquestioned expertise make him the right person to lead the IRS," Obama said in a statement following the Senate vote.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner