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Trump pick to oversee COVID-19 money advances to Senate floor

Senate Banking Committee votes 14-11 to advance Brian Miller to be special IG for pandemic recovery

President Donald Trump’s controversial pick to oversee $500 billion in coronavirus response spending advanced to the Senate floor Tuesday.

The Senate Banking Committee voted 14-11 to advance Brian Miller to be the special inspector general for pandemic recovery.

Congress established the position to oversee the Treasury Department’s handling of the bailout funds included in March’s massive coronavirus response bill. Treasury got $454 billion to back trillions in lending through Federal Reserve credit facilities for financial markets, large corporations and midsize companies, as well as state and local government bonds. It also includes $29 billion in airline industry bailouts and another $17 billion for companies considered “critical to maintaining national security.”

[Democrats doubt Trump attorney can give independent oversight]

Miller’s fast-tracked committee vote came just a week after the panel held his nomination hearing and a floor vote could come in a similarly speedy fashion.

“The special inspector general for pandemic recovery will oversee the reporting and auditing requirements of the law and it’s critical that we quickly confirm this nominee so that that important work can begin,” said Senate Banking Chairman Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho.

Miller spent nine years as inspector general at the General Services Administration during the Clinton and Bush administrations. He most famously exposed an extravagant GSA conference in Las Vegas and was part of a long feud with GSA Administrator Lurita Doan over his oversight efforts that eventually led President George W. Bush to fire her.

Democrats and some government watchdogs have openly doubted whether Miller would be willing to embarrass Trump, his most recent legal client. Miller is a member of the White House Counsel’s Office.

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“As an IG nominee with personal ties to the White House Counsel’s Office and an administration outwardly hostile to anyone who tries to hold the president accountable, Mr. Miller failed in committee to explain, or in the letters afterwards, how he will establish his independence from his current boss,” said ranking member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

When Trump signed the roughly $2 trillion package into law, he called unconstitutional a provision requiring the special IG to inform Congress if the administration withheld any information. Trump went on to fire three inspectors general in April, including two that criticized the president and one who was supposed to oversee another COVID-19 program.

The White House has also blocked all members of its coronavirus task force from testifying before committees in the Democratic-controlled House, although it allowed them to appear remotely before a panel in the GOP-controlled Senate Tuesday.

If confirmed, Miller would be just one part of Congress’ oversight. The March law also created a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee made up of the inspector generals of 20 federal agencies, as well as the special inspector general for pandemic recovery, which has jurisdiction over all federal spending in response to COVID-19.

The special inspector general will also share its purview with a five-member Congressional Oversight Commission created in the March bill. One of the Republican members of that panel, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, voted in favor of Miller on Tuesday.

The House separately created a select committee on the coronavirus crisis. 

The Fed has created nine lending facilities since mid-March to keep financial markets working while much of the economy can’t. The law itself does not require the Fed or the Treasury to report who uses the lending facilities or the terms of those deals, but the central bank announced in April that it would do so on a monthly basis.

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