The good news: Congress appears set to approve a deal that would exempt more than 200 executive branch nominees from Senate confirmation, which would finally allow movement on Obama nominations. The bad news: Even if the deal goes through, the nomination process is still broken.
Al Kamen explains:
Meanwhile, there’s good news for some not-so-top-tier nominees. Headed for passage in the Senate: measures that would lift confirmation requirements for some 200 full-time positions and put 240 part-time posts on boards and commissions on a fast track to passage.
The bipartisan legislation — supported by Reid and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell(Ky.) as well as Senate rules committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and ranking Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) — could be adopted as early as this month.
This is a change that is long overdue — there are far too many executive branch positions that require Senate confirmation. The United States is not going to become a fascist state because the Commissioner for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education doesn’t have to face a Senate vote. If the deal goes through, all that will happen is that the federal government will function better and the Senate will have less work to do.
The deal, though, doesn’t really challenge the prevailing dynamic on high level appointments or judicial nominations. The legislation doesn’t impact the judicial nomination process, so we may see more foot-dragging on filling judicial vacancies — something that’s gotten so bad that Republican appointed judges in overburdened districts begging Republicans to move forward on filling those vacancies.
What’s more, Republican Senators have shown they’re still willing to block Obama nominees for frivolous reasons. On Monday, Nobel Prize winning-economist Peter Diamond withdrew his nomination to the Federal Reserve Board after more than a year of obstruction. Now Republicans are even objecting to Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary, John Bryson, calling him an “extremist” because he supports environmental causes and because he referred to the cap-and-trade bill as “moderate but acceptable.” Of course, that was actually the point of cap-and-trade to begin with — it was the moderate alternative to a carbon tax.
It’s one thing to block executive branch nominees over genuinely extreme views. But Republicans are mostly blocking Obama’s nominees simply because they disagree with them. The Obama administration deserves its share of the blame for not putting up a fight for its own nominees. During the Bush administration the president and his Republican surrogates never stopped repeating the phrase “up or down vote.” Obama has not shown this kind of fight.
But the primary blame for these logjams still rests with a system that enables GOP obstructionism. While the Senate compromise is an important step forward, as long as the Senate rules allow Senators to block nominees for transparently silly reasons, the system will remain broken.