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Post Partisan
Posted at 10:09 AM ET, 06/07/2011

The scandal no one is talking about

  
There’s a scandal in Washington that’s taking a back seat to a much sexier one that you don’t need me to tell you about. The partisan obstruction of President Obama’s appointment of Peter A. Diamond to a seat on the Federal Reserve Board ought to be the cause for real outrage about how broken our government is. It’s hardly making a ripple.

Think about it. Diamond is the winner of a Nobel Prize in economics and a professor at MIT. He is as qualified as anyone who has been appointed to the Fed. In case nobody noticed, we’re in the middle of an economic crisis. The Fed is central to getting us out. Yet the president can’t even get his appointee to the Fed confirmed. Diamond withdrew his name this week after a fight that lasted more than a year.

As The Post reported, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, questioned how Diamond’s academic work on pensions and the labor market fit with conducting monetary policy. Excuse me, senator, but the Fed has a responsibility under law to fight inflation and keep unemployment down. And have you looked lately at the unemployment rate? Diamond was exactly the sort of voice you would want to add to the Fed right now.

The larger problem is with the appointment and confirmation process itself. It is utterly broken, and has been for years. (My Brookings Institution colleague Bill Galston and I did a report late last year on the confirmation mess, suggesting changes that both parties ought to be able to embrace, and some of them seem to have a shot this year.)

But as the Diamond case shows, Republicans in the Senate have gone even further than oppositions have in the past in using the filibuster to block the president’s policies by obstructing his appointments. And they are paying no price for it. On the contrary, they know perfectly well that Obama will get all the blame if his economic policies falter.

You also have to wonder, though, about the administration’s willingness to fight for the people it asks to take these jobs. This morning’s New York Times story on Diamond includes the following paragraphs that the Obama White House should take seriously 

The decision by a noted economist Monday to end a 14-month wait for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors is renewing concerns among some Democrats about the fighting spirit of the Obama administration. . . .

. . . Democratic leadership did not press for a vote on the nomination, and congressional aides said that the White House invested relatively little energy in fighting for Mr. Diamond. Moreover, they said that the administration had not submitted nominations for vacancies atop several of the federal agencies charged with overhauling and improving financial regulation in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

“There’s a deep feeling of frustration,” said one Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “No one wants to insult the administration or put them in a position that’s uncomfortable for them or worse for them. So you’re just sitting around waiting for them to take the lead.”

Yes, the primary problem here is with Senate Republicans. But the administration needs to put a lot more into these confirmation fights. It’s hard enough up there right now for nominees without their also having to worry about whether the administration has their backs. To think, the long hot summer has just begun.

By  |  10:09 AM ET, 06/07/2011

 
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