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Ezra Klein
Friday, October 1, 2010; A15

Same old Senate employs a new maneuver

On Wednesday night, the Senate confirmed 54 of President Obama's nominees, including two of his three picks for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors. Guess they weren't that controversial after all. But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) got something out of the deal, too: a promise that the Senate would be kept in pro forma sessions over the next six weeks so the president can't use the chamber's recess to make recess appointments.

McConnell had two chips here. The first was that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) needed him to move the noncontroversial nominees. The second was that McConnell could send nominees back to the White House, which is a sort of odd rule that allows the minority leader to force the White House to start the confirmation process from the beginning.

The most immediate casualty was Jack Lew, Obama's choice for director of the Office of Management and Budget. Lew has been cleared by his two committees with large bipartisan majorities. But his nomination is being held by Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who admits that her hold is about the White House's moratorium on offshore drilling, not about Lew, who she says "clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve as one of the president's most important economic advisers."

With the Senate in fake session over the next six weeks, Lew can't be recess-appointed, so the OMB will be without its director even as the government begins working on the 2012 budget. The people I've talked with are shocked that this is going to happen.

But beyond Lew, there seems to be a new norm emerging. Now that McConnell has discovered a way to leverage his power over noncontroversial appointees to impede the president's ability to make recess appointments, there's little doubt that he'll use it again, or that the Democrats will use it when the Republicans are in control. And so the already broken process for nominations becomes that much more broken.

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