Senate panel approves Maryland's O’Malley as next Social Security head


WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee voted 17-10 Tuesday to advance to the full Senate the nomination of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to be the next commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

All 14 Democrats and three Republicans — Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — supported advancing O’Malley’s nomination. Ten other Republicans voted against him.

“Gov. O’Malley will demand that there be better customer service at the Social Security Administration,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told his colleagues before the finance panel’s vote. “We need someone responsible to report to us as to why it takes so long for our constituents to get the services they need from the Social Security Administration. Gov. O’Malley will take that responsibility as the accountable person.”

O’Malley was nominated by President Joe Biden in July to head Social Security after removing Andrew Saul, a holdover from the Trump administration. Saul’s term as commissioner proved controversial for his connection to a conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute, that calls for cuts to Social Security. Biden’s action drew the ire of Republicans.

“When the Biden administration removed the last Senate-confirmed commissioner prior to the completion of his six-year term, I expressed strong concerns that this decision politicized the SSA to the detriment of Social Security beneficiaries,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the finance committee’s top Republican. “I will not be supporting (O’Malley’s) nomination today.”

Crapo noted that Saul did not have sufficient time to implement any reforms before he was removed, that the Biden administration now had set a precedent to shorten the Social Security commissioner’s term and that future administrations could do the same.

The committee’s chair, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., rejected Crapo’s concerns, saying, “The Supreme Court ruled that single-agency heads serve at the pleasure of the president. … There is the authority of the president to replace an individual.”

O’Malley’s nomination now awaits a confirmation vote by the full Senate. If confirmed, O’Malley would head the federal agency for a term ending in January 2025.

The Social Security Administration had a budget of $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2022 and had about 60,000 employees. The agency handled benefits for some 70 million people in 2021.

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