Posts Tagged: holds

Richard Shelby Stops Holding Obama Nominees

The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray reports that Richard Shelby’s one-man anti-governance crusade has ended:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has released his controversial holds on more than 70 pending presidential nominations, his office said Monday night.

Senators, usually from the minority party, often use the legislative tactic on one or a few presidential nominees, usually to protest parochial concerns. Shelby’s maneuver, aimed at nearly all appointments awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor, agitated Democrats because it would effectively limit confirmation votes to a handful per month.

As I blogged yesterday, I think that Shelby’s gesture was actually good, because it drew attention to holds in a way that individual holds never have. Harry Reid blasted Shelby for his selfishness — after Senate leadership had gone a year not taking colleagues to task for these holds. Now if only Reid could be as vigilant in making sure these 70 nominees get the yes-no vote they’re entitled to on the full Senate floor.

Can Shame Stop Senate Holds?

This weekend might have marked a turning point in U.S. Senators putting holds on Barack Obama nominations for executive branch positions. On Saturday, the Washington Post had a story with the uncharacteristically assertive headline: “Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama holding up Obama nominees for home-state pork.” The piece, by Scott Wilson and Shaliagh Murray, then reports the claims of Harry Reid that Shelby is holding up more than 70 nominees for two home-state projects: the manufacturing of the KC-135 Air Force Tanker Fleet and a demand that Congress continue to fund an FBI terrorist analysis center in Alabama.

Also, Reid pointed out that during the Obama administration holds have become an even greater Senate problem: (more…)

John McCain Decides He’d Rather Not Have NLRB Function

Another day, another example of the U.S. Senate putting the federal government in paralysis. The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse reports that the National Labor Relations Board, which polices labor union laws, has only two members when it is supposed to have five. This results in a lot of 1-1 ties and legal questions of whether a 2-member NLRB makes a quorum.  So why does the NLRB just have two members?

President Obama has nominated three lawyers to the board, but Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, has delayed confirmation of the three-person package for months by placing a hold on one nominee, Craig Becker, an associate general counsel for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Service Employees International Union. Under Senate rules, a single member’s hold can prevent a full vote unless 60 members vote to overcome the hold.

Mr. McCain contends that Mr. Becker would deny employers their proper role in union elections. In a letter to Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and the Labor Committee’s chairman, Mr. McCain referred to Mr. Becker as “probably the most controversial nominee that I have seen in a long time.”

Greenhouse doesn’t further explain why McCain thinks Becker is a historically controversial nominee. However, he can’t be that controversial if the Senate Labor Committee voted 15-8 to confirm him — with every Democrat and two Republicans voting yes. Yet in the world’s greatest deliberative body, the whimsy of one Senator can bring governance to a halt.

This is not a Republicans obstructing Democrats issue but a U.S. Senate issue. As Greenhouse notes, when George W. Bush was president, Democrats blocked his nominees to run the NLRB. In both the Bush administration and today, the Senate has not given NLRB nominees the dignity of a yes-no confirmation vote, but has stranded them — and the labor relations board — in a perpetual limbo

Stand By Your Nominee

Dawn Johnsen

Apropos of my criticisms earlier today of Senate holds and piece last week on Dawn Johnsen, the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that Barack Obama will re-nominate Johnsen to head the Justice Dept. Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen’s nomination was automatically sent back to the White House because the U.S. Senate did not even vote on her confirmation in their 2009 session. Obama also has decided to re-nominate other potential appointees that the Senate didn’t vote on. Will Obama’s vote of confidence pressure the Senate into at least giving Johnson et. al an up/down vote? Don’t hold your breath.

Will Bureaucrats Rebel Against the U.S. Senate?

Kit Bond

Kit Bond

This is not the worst example of the U.S. Senate v. good government during the Obama administration, but it typifies the situation: The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe blogs that Danielle German, the chief of staff at the General Services Administration — a/k/a the “government’s landlord” for its property management — has quit in frustration. Why? Because the U.S. Senate has still not confirmed Martha Johnson, Barack Obama’s nomination way back in May to head GSA. Johnson is still not confirmed, because — you know it -Missouri Sen. Kit Bond has a hold on Johnson. Johnson’s hold is on behalf of the noble national interest of getting more information about new a federal building in Kansas City.

Joseph Lieberman famously made the health care reform bill worse in an attention-seeking fit. But the whimsy of Lieberman’s health care demands was not the actions of one egomaniac. It’s standard-issue behavior in the upper chamber. Kit Bond can hold up a multi-billion dollar agency with thousands of employees, because he wants assurances about, essentially, an earmark to Missouri. South Carolina’s Jim DeMint can stifle airport security, a kind of big deal these days, because he wants to needle unions. Wyoming’s Mike Enzi can prevent the Labor Dept. from enforcing its most basic minimum wage and overtime laws, because…well, it’s not clear why Enzi is doing this.

What’s frustrating is how little Senators called on the carpet for this, either by their colleagues or Obama administration officials. In the case of these holds, comity seems to take precedence over governance. Perhaps, though, we’ve found a way to dramatize the problem — other top-level bureaucrats who will join German and quit in protest.

Jim DeMint’s One-Man Crusade Against Airline Security

Jim DeMint

Today’s newspapers are saturated with coverage about aviation security — yet the U.S. Senate is not likely anytime soon to hold a confirmation vote for Errol Southers, Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration. The Wall Street Journal’s Yochi J. Dreazen reports that South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint has put a “hold” on the nomination because he wants Southers to come out against the unionization of TSA employees.

Let’s be clear that the DeMint hold is the reason why the appointment has stalled. The Washington Post had front-page stories this weekend about a 20 year-old incident of Southers snooping around FBI files for dirt on his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. However, no Senator has thought to put Southers and the entire TSA in limbo over the incident (the Senate has known about it for months). The delay is purely because DeMint wants to show his anti-union bona fides.

Prerogative of Lone Senator Grounds Airport Security

Via the Washington Post, McClatchy’s Margaret Talev reports:

An alleged attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration — if there were one.

Instead, the post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has held up President Obama‘s nominee in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union.

Ha! DeMint’s objection harkens back to the most underrated line of the George W. Bush administration. (more…)

What Secondary Stories in 2009 Will Come To a Head in 2010?

The day before Barack Obama’s inauguration I wrote (on this very blog):

But as the Bush administration mercifully ends, its consequences endure. Barack Obama inherits multiple disasters: the worst economy since the Great Depression, a quagmire in Afghanistan, a slightly less terrible quagmire in Iraq, the Israeli invasion of Gaza, the subversion of the rule of law, accelerating global warming, addiction to foreign oil, 47 million Americans without health care, and a war on terror that has left the masterminds of 9/11 still at large.

Each of the above predicaments is greater than anything Bush faced when he became president in 2001. As a result, sweeping problems – from the evisceration of the federal regulatory system to a broken food industry to a hobbled safety system for medicines and imported consumer goods – may be relegated to the backburner.

This remains the way I look at the Obama administration — it’s defined by the depressingly immense number of problems bequeathed by the Bush administration. (more…)

The World’s Most Frustrating Deliberative Body

I liked the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein’s op-ed yesterday on the U.S. Senate’s abuse of the filibuster: gradually, and then suddenly, 60, not 51, Senators, are now required to pass any significant piece of legislation. The Senate effectively has made the federal government dysfunctional: “The government can function if the minority party has either the incentive to make the majority fail or the power to make the majority fail. It cannot function if it has both.”

I would add that while the filibuster has the biggest, and most harmful, impact of any Senate procedural rule, the rule that causes the most immediate damage is the “hold.” (more…)

Mike Enzi’s Heroic Crusade to Not Have Labor Laws Enforced

Mike Enzi in Action

The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse reported yesterday that the Senate labor committee voted 13-10 to confirm M. Patricia Smith, to the third highest post in the Labor Dept. So months after her nomination, the full Senate will vote on whether to confirm Smith, the current New York state labor commissioner.

No, wait: it turns out that Mike Enzi, a Republican Senator from Wyoming and top GOP member of the labor committee, has put a “hold” on the Smith nomination. That mean’s 60 members of the Senate need to vote “yes” not to Smith’s confirmation, but the question of whether the Senate should even have a yes/no vote on Smith. Enzi’s ostensible reason for the Smith hold is too arcane and petty for me to possibly have success summarizing, so here’s what Greenhouse writes:

Mr. Enzi first urged Mr. Obama to withdraw the nomination in August, complaining of the inaccuracies in Ms. Smith’s testimony concerning New York Wage Watch, a program created by her department in which labor unions and groups advocating on behalf of low-wage immigrants work with state officials to uncover wage and hour violations.

At one point in her confirmation hearing, Ms. Smith said she had not had discussions about expanding Wage Watch. At another, she said the idea for Wage Watch had been developed within her department, before outsiders were approached about the program.

Ms. Smith, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has acknowledged since the hearing that she “misspoke.” In saying she had not discussed the program’s expansion, she had intended to say only that she had not authorized the expansion, her Democratic defenders say. And, they say, as for her testifying that the idea for the program originated within the department, she had not known that one of her deputies had consulted with a labor group about it.

The world’s greatest deliberative body should be more democratic than letting a lone crusader from Wyoming obstruct the work of the Labor Department.

Besides Smith, the labor committee also has not got around to voting yes/no on Lorelei Boylan, the president’s nominee to head the department’s wage and hour division. The wage and hour division could use the leadership: a scathing GAO report this March revealed that the division does not enforce basic wage laws like overtime pay and is unresponsive to worker complaints.

Enzi appears to have no interest in whether the Labor Dept. enforces basic labor laws — in fact, he is actively preventing the department from working. It’s his right as a Senator to  cynically exploit the rules of the upper chamber. However, given the number of holds and delayed confirmation votes it’s a wonder Congressional Democrats don’t publicize such obstruction more. The Democratic majority in the Senate could use their status to change the rules. The biggest suggested change is to get rid of the filibuster. But less blockbuster moves like getting rid of holds would also lead to more representative — and likely better — government