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Senate delays confirmation vote for Labor secretary

Senate Republicans have criticized Thomas Perez’s handling of the proceedings against the city of St. Paul.

Molly Riley/AP/File

Senate Republicans have criticized Thomas Perez’s handling of the proceedings against the city of St. Paul.

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats have delayed a confirmation vote on Labor secretary-nominee Thomas Perez after Republicans threatened to use a separate hearing to criticize his handling of a whistle-blower case.

A vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that had been set for Thursday has been pushed back to May 8.

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Committee chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa said he was concerned that Republicans would use the separate hearing as a forum to attack Perez in his absence. Harkin canceled the hearing on federal whistle-blower laws, which also was set for Thursday.

Republicans have criticized Perez for declining to intervene in a whistle-blower case against the city of St. Paul while he headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Perez made the decision as part of a deal in which St. Paul agreed to withdraw another case from the Supreme Court that could have threatened the Justice Department’s strategy in bringing housing discrimination cases.

Republicans claim Perez made the deal based on political ideology and not the merits of the whistle-blower case, which could have won nearly $200 million for taxpayers. Perez has said the deal was in the best interest of the nation.

Republicans had asked Harkin earlier this week to postpone the vote on Perez, saying they needed more time to examine the deal. Harkin refused the request but changed his mind. The shift occurred after Republicans planned to have the plaintiff in the whistle-blower case, Frederick Newell, testify at a hearing about weaknesses in whistle-blower laws at the Occupational Safety and Health Commission.

House GOP cancels vote
on patient program bailout

WASHINGTON — An effort by House Republicans to highlight problems with President Obama’s health care law by bailing out a program for people with preexisting medical conditions appeared to backfire on Wednesday.

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GOP leaders postponed a scheduled vote after the measure met strong opposition from two directions: from conservative groups resistant to any federal role in health care and from Democrats who objected that the Republicans planned to pay for the high-risk patient program by raiding a disease prevention provision the administration says is essential to the overhaul.

The legislation, a departure from the usual GOP efforts to kill the Affordable Health Care Act outright, also faced a White House veto threat.

Erica Elliott, spokeswoman for Republican whip Kevin McCarthy of California, said in a statement, ‘‘We had good conversations with our members and made a lot of solid progress’’ on the bill. But she said there was ‘‘still work to do,’’ and with members leaving for the George W. Bush Presidential Library dedication, ‘‘we’ll continue the conversations’’ when the House returns in May after a recess next week.

The GOP bill would provide up to $3.6 billion to shore up the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, which is intended to be a stopgap measure for uninsured high-risk patients until the end of this year, when full consumer protections under the health care act go into effect.

Under the plan, those who have been uninsured for six months would be subsidized so they could buy insurance at average rates. The original goal was for the plan to reach more than 300,000 before it disappeared at the end of this year, but the program’s costs were higher than anticipated and it enrolled slightly more than 100,000 before the administration said in February that it would stop taking new applications.

The money for the plan would come from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a provision of the health care law that Republicans have assailed as a slush fund for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Republicans are also critical of the use of some $300 million from that fund to publicize the new health insurance markets coming this fall under the health care law.

Obama strategy to foil daughters with tattoo

WASHINGTON — President Obama has a strategy to discourage his daughters from rebelling, perhaps by getting a tattoo himself.

Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, have told Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, that if they ever decide to get a tattoo then ‘‘mommy and me’’ will get the same tattoo in the same place on their bodies and show it off on YouTube as a ‘‘family tattoo.’’

Obama commented in an interview taped last week and broadcast Wednesday on NBC’s ‘‘Today.’’

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