Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 30, 2009

SURGEON GENERAL APPROVED WITHOUT OPPOSITION.... About three weeks ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved Dr. Regina Benjamin's nomination to be the next surgeon general. The vote was unanimous, and there was little doubt she'd be confirmed by the Senate.

Until, that is, some Senate Republicans decided to put a hold on the nomination. They were angry, apparently, because HHS told Humana to stop using taxpayer money to mislead the public about health care reform. As "punishment," the GOP decided to block all administration health-related nominees from receiving up-or-down votes.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said enough was enough. Senate Republicans, perhaps concerned about the public's reaction to blocking a vote on a surgeon general nominee during a public health emergency, quickly backed down.

After much agitation earlier in the day, the Senate voted to confirm Dr. Regina Benjamin as the nation's surgeon general on Thursday night amid a national emergency over the swine flu outbreak.

The Senate approved her on a voice vote. On Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, had taken to the floor to complain that her nomination, along with others, had been held up.

Given the larger context, it seems Reid's forceful public criticism sparked the change and led to the confirmation.

It's a reminder of the role of public shame in the Senate process. The GOP caucus, for example, obstructs the majority on an unprecedented scale. It's not that the rules changed, necessarily, to make it easier for this Senate minority to be obstructionist. Other Senate minorities could have behaved this way but didn't -- they feared looking ridiculous and sparking a public backlash.

Perhaps the key, then, is shining a brighter light on Senate Republican tactics?

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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The GOP have abandoned their principled opposition to partisan appointments out of fear.

I fear now for my country.

Posted by: Al on October 30, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

If I were Harry Reid, I'd start beating this horse. Often and a lot. These vampires need a little sunshine.

Posted by: about time on October 30, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

BTW- The GOP is slowing down confirmations all over the Obama administration. They are putting holds on nominees in every Agency - and it is hobbling the Obama team.

Almost no Agency has their compliment of officilas, no CFOs, CIOs, no junior aides, none of them. And it's killing them across the board.

They either start fighting or keep on not getting things done.

And really a huge fight with the incedibly unpopular GOP really shouldn't be a tough call.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on October 30, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks to whoever found & returned Reid's spine.

Posted by: slappy magoo on October 30, 2009 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Blushing like Blagojevich

Perhaps the key, then, is shining a brighter light on Senate Republican tactics?

But we are increasingly a culture that knows no shame.
And I don't think we can walk that back.

Heckling a woman in a wheelchair at a town hall meeting? Say what? And just as Wall Street cut bonus checks on the public dime, would anyone be surprised to see Lieberman & Co gut Reid's bill and then turn around a few years later and increase their own health benefits?

It wouldn't shock me.
In fact, I'd argue, this sort of shamelessness is fast becoming the new American character.
At least, that's the trajectory I seem to be seeing in my brief lifetime...

Posted by: koreyel on October 30, 2009 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

How about the god damn unemployment benefit extension, Harry?

Posted by: neill on October 30, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the key, then, is shining a brighter light on Senate Republican tactics?

Now it's time to turn attention to the "Gang of 14" -- a group of "moderates" that basically promised up-or-down votes on any Bush judicial nominee as long as the nominee didn't wear his Klan hood to his confirmation hearing. Their agreement stated that, "nominees should be filibustered only under extraordinary circumstances."

Someone needs to ask Republicans Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, John McCain and Joe Leiberman why they don't believe in democracy anymore.

Posted by: SteveT on October 30, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Koreyel is right. In present day America, truth, justice, and the American way is for suckers.

Much better to impregnate yourself with 8 babies and then whore them and yourself and your family out to the media for a reality show and big payday (Jon and Kate or Octomom).

Or, perpetrate a balloon hoax so you can whore yourself and your family out to the media to get a reality show and a big payday (Heene).

Or, get elected to public office so you can whore yourself and your family out to the insurance companies for a cushy job and a big payday (Bayh).

I could go on.

The point is so-called "American values" are an anachronism.

Posted by: Winkandanod on October 30, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

I'm all for shaming the obstructionist Republicans, but Obama has a more effective weapon: recess appointments. In fact, in light of the fact that Republican tactics are crippling the government at every level, Obama not only has the right to make recess appointments, he has the obligation.

And he should do it en masse, in grand fashion, and explain why: Republicans have had months to confirm these public and are deliberating dragging their heels. The only way to make sure the public is protected and served is for me to install these people myself.

Posted by: gradysu on October 30, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

The master of obstruction in the Senate is Republican Tom Coburn. The New York Times has an excellent article about him and about how one man can wreak havoc in the Senate and, therefore, in the country.


Posted by: Chris on October 30, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Obama has a more effective weapon: recess appointments.

Posted by: qwerty on October 30, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Again, a hold is only as good as Reid wants it to be. There is nothing that requires him to uphold them. It is a courtesy extended to fellow members of the millionaire's club and not a procedural power at all.

Lauding Reid and blaming the Republicans ignores this.


Posted by: doubtful on October 30, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Take the blinders off!

A point was made somewhere today by someone who'd commented on this very poll that the public seems to be way ahead of the lawmakers and pundits on the popularity of the public option. We can still hear a pundit or another opining that it would be political suicide for Sen. Lincoln or Sen. Bayh to support a health care bill with a public option, and that seems to be the view of the senators as well. However, as the results of this and other such recent polls strikingly indicate, it is the converse that appears to be true! The public now seems more likely to punish than to reward a Senator voting against the PO... I hope the so-called "centrist" Senators' people are following this development very closely and won't get caught on the wrong end of the debate and history.

Posted by: dcshungu on October 30, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Reid should do this more often. He has the authority and the votes.

But to put the matter differently, why doesn't he do this more often? Is he the master of some political skill in timing the move perfectly? Of letting the Republicans hoist themselves on their rhetorical petards? Of appearing not to be too pushy?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on October 30, 2009 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

from the Senate reference glossary:

hold - An informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader need not follow the Senator's wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.

Is Reid afraid that the Republicans will filibuster everything? Is he backing down over the threat of filibusters?

After his success with Dr. Benjamin, perhaps he will be emboldened to try this on other stifled nominees. Or is there some price to pay? What would the Democrats stand to lose from rolling some more of the extreme Republicans -- votes on health care and energy? How likely is that?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on October 30, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Senate Republicans - cowards, the lot of 'em! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on October 30, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the key, then, is shining a brighter light on Senate Republican tactics?

That's unusually Pollyanna-ish of you, Steve. Republicans as a rule have no shame. One instance of being shamed by a particularly bad political decision is not going to affect the other 200+ nominations they are still holding up.

Posted by: Rian Mueller on October 30, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

"Republicans have no shame..." Rian Mueller @ 1:32 PM.

Yeah, but they don't like having it pointed out.

Posted by: Doug on October 30, 2009 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK
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