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The Senate Is Holding Up a Long List of Obama Nominees

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By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Miriam Sapiro was nominated to be deputy U.S. trade representative in April. The Senate Finance Committee voted -- unanimously -- to confirm her in July.

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She's still not in the job -- because Sen. Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, is unhappy with the Canadian Parliament.

Seriously.

Bunning is upset about a measure pending before Canadian lawmakers that would restrict tobacco companies from adding candy flavorings to cigars and cigarettes. The measure is aimed at reducing youth smoking, but Kentucky lawmakers claim it would harm tobacco companies there -- and violate trade rules -- because chocolate is used as an additive to moderate the taste of Kentucky-grown burley tobacco.

So Bunning wants U.S. trade authorities to intervene, even though federal law restricts them from promoting tobacco use. And he is holding Sapiro hostage, leaving the trade office without a political appointee overseeing such crucial issues as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Doha round of trade talks, and the pending trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.

Sapiro isn't alone. For all the bellyaching about the Obama administration's supposed excess of policymaking czars outside the normal appointment process, Senate Republicans have been blocking confirmation of a disturbing number of administration nominees, many for reasons having nothing to do with their suitability for their jobs.

No one has clean hands here. Slow-walking nominations is a bipartisan sport. Democrats also pulled this stunt -- often as a gambit to dislodge documents that they believed the Bush administration was improperly withholding. The Obama administration's quick start on making nominations has slowed to a trickle, lessening the pressure on the Senate to deal with the backlog. And, ultimately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the power to force a vote on a pending nomination -- if he wants to take the time to do it.

Nonetheless, that's no excuse for letting advise and consent degenerate into sit around and wait. Until Tuesday, when Tom Perez was confirmed as assistant attorney general for civil rights -- more than six months after being nominated -- five of 11 assistant attorney general positions were unfilled.

Some other examples:

-- Missouri Republican Kit Bond is holding up confirmation of Martha Johnson, the nominee to head the General Services Administration, because the agency has been balking at constructing a $175 million federal building for Kansas City. Johnson's nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor since June.


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