Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 29, 2013

Confirmed, but ...

John Koskinen opposed by both senators from Kentucky

The Independent

ASHLAND — We congratulate John Koskinen, a 1957 Ashland High School graduate who has maintained his ties to this community, for being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new director of the Internal Revenue Service. The vote was 59-36.

We’re disappointed — but not really surprised — that Kentucky’s two Republican senators — Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul — could not put aside their intense partisanship long enough to vote to confirm a clearly qualified fellow Kentuckian to head a troubled federal agency in which many Americans have lost confidence,

Fortunately, not all Senate Republicans joined McConnell and Paul in opposing Koskinen.  Five Republican senators — Orin Hatch of Utah, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Bob Corker of Tennessee — joined Hatch in voting for Koskinen. Of course, the Tea Party wing of the GOP would dismiss those five senators as RINOs, as in Republicans in Name Only, for having the audacity — and in our view, the courage — to cross party lines and support a qualified Democrat nominated by President Obama.

Because Koskinen is a Kentuckian with a solid and well-earned reputation as a “fixer" in both the private and public sector, we had hoped McConnell and Paul would support his nomination. No such luck. With their help,  dysfunctional government in Washington continues. McConnell and Paul let it be known they would prefer to have no leader in the IRS than a qualified leader appointed by  Barack Obama. How sad.

GOP votes not needed

Of course, under the new Senate rules adopted on a straight party vote, Koskinen could have been approved without a single Republican vote, but the fact that he received five GOP votes strengthen his position. Koskinen has been given a five-year contract to head the IRS, which means his term will extend beyond the end of Obama’s term in January of 2017. At 74, one suspects Koskinen will be ready to retire at the end of his five-year term, if not sooner.

In the Senate, the vote of Orin Hatch, whose tenure in the U.S. Senate dates back to 1977, is particularly significant. Initially, Hatch was opposed to the full Senate voting on Koskinen until after the conclusion of the ongoing investigation of allegations that IRS agents had targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups for extra, sometimes burdensome, scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Perhaps because he realized he was not going to be able to delay a vote on Koskinen’s nomination, Hatch dropped his efforts. “I am encouraged by Mr. Koskinen’s commitment to continue the cooperation the Finance Committee has enjoyed so far in its investigation, as well as his commitment to working with Congress to fix the IRS’s many problems,” Hatch said in a statement to the congressional record.

In his confirmation hearing, Koskinen promised to continue the investigation and work to restore the reputation of the IRS.

“People need to have a view that the IRS is a nonpolitical, nonpartisan agency and that they will all be treated fairly no matter what their affiliation or political view,” Koskinen rightly said.

Koskinen has extensive experience in the public and private sectors. He came in to overhaul mortgage buyer Freddie Mac after its near-collapse in the financial crisis at the end of President George W. Bush’s administration. He also oversaw preparations for potential computer problems associated with the Year 2000 under President Bill Clinton.

With about 90,000 employees, the IRS processes more than 140 million individual income tax returns each year. The IRS, which is part of the Treasury Department, will be in charge of enforcing the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and collecting fines from people who don’t. The IRS also will distribute subsidies to help people buy insurance in new state-based marketplaces known as exchanges.

Although not an Ashland native, Koskinen comes back regularly for reunions. He is also a cornerstone donor for the Putnam Stadium Restoration Foundation. He played football for the Tomcats from 1954 to 1956.

The only “weakness” in John Koskinen’s record is in lack of experience in dealing with the IRS, but his job is to manage the agency. You don’t have to be an expert on tax law to do that.

The U.S. Constitution gives the president the power to nominate individuals to federal offices and every president since George Washington has used that power to nominate his political supporters to those offices. It would be naive to think a president who is a Democrat is going to appoint a Republican to head such an important federal agency. In our view, the Senate should approve presidential appointees who are clearly qualified. John Koskinen fits that bill. It’s too bad our two senators could not bring themselves to support him.