The Washington Post

House set to improve Senate confirmation process

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The House Tuesday evening passed a measure to improve the clogged presidential appointee confirmation process by eliminating 169 jobs from requiring Senate approval.

The positions in that category, such as assistant secretaries for public affairs or for administration or management, are ones that rarely spark partisan Senate battles.

The Senate has already changed its rules to place another 270 or so nominees in a “streamlined” category where, if no senator objects, the nominee would bypass laborious committee hearings and go directly to the Senate floor for a vote.

That second category includes jobs such as chief financial officers or assistant secretaries for legislative affairs at various agencies.

All told, those actions, which also affect some 3,000 members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Services Corps, would streamline or reduce confirmation requirements for about 30 percent of the positions now needing committee hearings and Senate floor votes.

“The legislation is going to benefit whoever is our next president,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which helped lead the effort to reform the broken confirmation process.

“The next president will have his team in place much faster,” Stier predicted. “We need to move from the stagecoach to the e-mail world to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) backed the measure, the product of an active bipartisan effort from Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and top committee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). It passed last July on a 79-20 vote.

The House, which of course has no role in the confirmation process, had been expected to promptly follow suit. Then President Obama’s recess appointments in January infuriated Republicans and may have soured the mood for passing the bill.

But perhaps the tight polls and a possible Romney presidency in January — in addition to doing something about the mess known as the confirmation process — apparently proved enough Tuesday to overcome any misgivings.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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