Tag: Senate HELP Committee

Labor Nominee Exemplifies All That Is Bad with Government

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights who personifies both the Peter Principle and this administration’s flouting of the rule of law, is due this week for a vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on his nomination to be Labor Secretary. If senators who understand how destructive he is don’t do more than simply vote against him, they will have missed a key opportunity not just to stop a bad nominee, but to score easy political points too.

Quin Hilyer provides a useful recap of Perez’s nefarious dealings:

  • Interference with the Supreme Court case of Magner v. Gallagher, getting the City of St. Paul to dismiss its appeal to prevent what would’ve been a sharp (and probably unanimous) rebuke to the federal government regarding its use of “disparate impact” racial theories in housing policy, to the detriment of minorities and poor people everywhere;
  • Refusal to comply with subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights;
  • Dismissal of the Justice Department’s already-won prosecution of the Black Panthers for voter intimidation during the 2008 election;
  • Repeatedly stating and running a department dedicated to the proposition that voting rights and other civil rights law don’t protect white people;
  • Willfully misleading and lying to Congress under oath several times;
  • Racial abuse of the New York fire department, to the detriment of public safety and qualified minority applicants;
  • Hiring for “career” (non-political appointee) slots only attorneys who have demonstrable left-wing credentials—making Alberto Gonzales’s politicized-hiring foibles look like the model of civil service administration;
  • Trampling on religious liberties to the point that the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his arguments in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC regarding the “ministerial exception” to employment laws;
  • Conducting government business from a personal email account as much as 1,200 times (!) and now refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas to release those emails; and
  • Unrelated to him personally, being nominated to lead a cabinet department whose jurisdiction overlaps with an independent agency, the National Labor Relations Board, that was improperly constituted via illegal recess appointments and has continued to issue rulings even after the government lost its case unanimously at the D.C. Circuit.

About the only thing that The Talented Mr. Perez has going for him is that his performance at his confirmation hearing wasn’t the complete disaster that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s was at his (a low bar). In short, if there is ever a reason not to simply defer to the president in his choice of cabinet members or to make political hay rather than simply have a quiet vote, this is it. 

Harkin to Continue Ignoring that He’s the Problem

What an enigma American higher education is! It produces simultaneously far too many graduates and far too few. It gets hundreds-of-billions in taxpayer subsidies – subsidies that have almost constantly risen – and yet its main problem is said to be too little public support.

What interesting questions these problems raise!

Don’t, though, ask Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) about any of them. Even though he chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, which has jurisdiction over such huge laws as the Higher Education Act, all he cares about is one thing: slaying for-profit schools. Which is why he has scheduled yet another hearing – the fifth in a seemingless endless series – that will focus solely on for-profit institutions, and will almost certainly feature more lopsided testimony, self-serving speechifying, and, if we’re really lucky, more apparently dirty dealing masquerading as selfless public service.  

Why is Harkin seemingly obsessed with for-profit schools while ignoring the really interesting – and urgent – questions about the entire Ivory Tower? Sadly, that is not a great riddle. It is because what ails higher education is Senator Harkin himself, and all the politicians who, for decades, have bought votes with massive aid to schools and students while taking no responsibility for the outrageous price inflation and waste that has fueled. In other words, Sen. Harkin is ignoring the problem because, to deal with it, he’d be the one who’d have to answer the tough questions.

The Other For-Profit College Scandal

Because the evidence of wrongdoing and evasion is so clear, and the effect has been so damaging, I have devoted a lot of pixels to the GAO’s horrendous ”secret shopper” report on for-profit colleges, as well as the stonewalling about what caused the initial report to be so biased. A potentially even bigger story, though, is what appears to be the machinations of an unholy alliance of Department of Education officials, Senate HELP Committee chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Wall Street short-sellers hoping to make big bucks off the demise of for-profit schools. This Daily Caller article, and the connected video of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), are good places to start learning more about this, as is the website of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The problems with understanding scandals like this, of course, are trying to get the truth about things that have gone on almost entirely in real or virtual back rooms; knowing what is legal and what isn’t; and just figuring out who’s who. Such scandals also reveal little about whether for-profit schools are actually more or less effective than other higher ed sectors, arguably the main public policy concern.

What this sort of thing does start to reveal, though, is just how far out of public view policy is often made, as well as how people try to profit directly from government action. In other words, it’s a great case study in public-choice theory, and just how un-Schoolhouse Rock Washington really is.

So I can’t tell you everything about who said what to whom. However, at the very least it is clear, for instance, that famed short seller Steve Eisman had a huge amount to gain by testifying that for-profits are bad and there is a “bubble” in proprietary higher ed about to burst. After all, were either the Education Department or Senator Harkin – or both – to use his testimony to attack for profits, as indeed they have, Eisman would have a highly profitable self-fulfilling prophecy on his hands.

No matter how you feel about for-profit colleges – and my feelings are decidedly mixed– learning about how policy is really made can be a very unsettling thing. In fact, it can make you feel more than just a little sick.