Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama holding up Obama nominees for home-state pork

(Associated Press)
By Scott Wilson and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Obama administration received a rare political gift Friday that brought together a pair of issues the president is promising this election year to do something about -- pork and partisanship.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) announced that he would block administration nominees from Senate votes in an attempt to secure funding for two defense-related projects for his state. The use of the holding tool is often wielded anonymously. But Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) complained publicly about Shelby's effort to win tens of millions of dollars in federal money by delaying dozens of nominees from taking up government positions, including some in national security agencies.

In his State of the Union address, Obama identified Washington's partisan dysfunction as a key concern of economically distressed voters, and he has raised the issue at nearly every turn in recent days, although Obama's own party has used Senate delay tactics to hold up GOP nominees. The president himself signed a $447 billion omnibus spending bill in December that included more than 5,000 of the kind of earmarks that Shelby is seeking.

Nonetheless, senior administration officials spared little time in pointing to Shelby's move as a sign of GOP intransigence, and the Democratic National Committee released a Web video Friday suggesting that the Alabama senator's "blanket hold" is a threat to national security.

In a meeting with reporters, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "If that's not the poster child for how this town needs to change the way it works, I fear there won't be a greater example of silliness throughout the entire year of 2010."

"It boggles the mind to hold up qualified nominees for positions that are needed to perform functions in a government because you didn't get two earmarks," Gibbs said.

Shelby's tactic was just one sign Friday of Washington's enduring partisanship.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate banking committee, announced that negotiations with Republicans on financial-reform legislation had broken down. And House GOP leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) informed the administration that his party would not participate in Obama's proposed commission to examine ways to close the $1.6 trillion budget deficit unless half the panel's 18 members are Republican.

Shelby is seeking funds for the KC-135 Air Force tanker fleet, a project that could generate thousands of jobs in Alabama. He is also demanding that the administration restore funding cut from the budget for the FBI's Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, a facility to test defenses against the improvised bombs used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shelby placed the hold because of "unaddressed national security concerns," according to a statement released by his office. He "has made the administration aware of these concerns and is willing to discuss them at any time." The statement said Shelby was holding up "several" nominees, but the White House and Reid's office placed the number at more than 70.

Regan Lachapelle, a spokeswoman for Reid, said "regardless of his concern, Shelby shouldn't have a hold on 70-plus nominees because of a parochial issue."

In addition to Cabinet secretaries, the Senate is charged with granting its "advice and consent" on more than 2,000 ambassadors, federal judges, regulatory and law enforcement officials, and commission members. Most of those positions do not typically generate controversy.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company