Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 30, 2010

MITCH MCCONNELL'S ANTI-GOVERNING CRUSADE.... It was a fairly busy week on Capitol Hill, and an effort to clear some of the backlog of unconfirmed nominees slipped largely under the radar. That's a shame; what transpired was important.

There are, at present, about 240 administration nominees waiting for a confirmation vote, an almost comically ridiculous number given how long they've been waiting. On Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) tried to reduce the number by seeking unanimous consent to approve about a third of the pending nominees as a bloc. The total of about 80 officials was made up of nominees who'd already been through the vetting process, had already been approved by the relevant committee, and were filling government posts that are currently vacant.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused. It wasn't because the nominees weren't qualified; it was because McConnell's feelings were hurt when the White House gave a recess appointment to Craig Becker to serve on the National Labor Relations Board earlier this year.

And so, important government posts remain vacant, and qualified officials wait patiently for months (or years) for no apparent reason, because Mitch McConnell isn't especially concerned with whether our federal government has the personnel in place to function as it's supposed to.

James Fallows explained what a ridiculous mess this is.

[I]t is bad for America to leave so much of its governmental and diplomatic leadership vacant for months or years at the beginning of each administration -- and it's worse, in the long run, to allow a process that makes many talented people think, Why would I ever want to go through that? Why would I want to spend half a year on the financial and security vetting, during which time I was not supposed even to tell my friends I was being considered; and then another half-year being ready to switch from my normal life to a new role somewhere else, but not knowing when that would happen, if ever?

Mitch McConnell objects to Craig Becker's role on the NLRB? Fine. Let him make his case. But can we stand a system that allows him to gum up the whole rest of the government at his whim? Rule by laws, not men, is supposed to be the idea here. For now the main countervailing force is to put a spotlight on the petulant men behaving this way.

It's yet another reminder that Republican lawmakers are, far too often, fundamentally unserious about their duties. I realize these kinds of developments remain invisible to the typical American voter, but that's unfortunate. There's no reason to reward a child-like political party that punishes the country over petty piques and tired tantrums.

There's nothing wrong with the design of the system. It doesn't function the way it should because reckless and irresponsible miscreants refuse to let it function.

Steve Benen 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

Bookmark and Share

It's yet another reminder that Republican lawmakers are, far too often, fundamentally unserious about their duties.

"Unserious" is too kind. I would describe them as fundamentally unpatriotic in their refusal to fulfill their duties.

Posted by: AK Liberal on May 30, 2010 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

The federal bureaucracy is notoriously inefficient, as everybody knows. Having fewer government appointees simply means that government employees will have to shoulder a more honest workload.

Posted by: Al on May 30, 2010 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Instead of just being spectators and shaking our heads, all of us need a major resistance effort to Republican obstructionism not being taken seriously by the Media and most voters. That means calling in, writing letters, emails to editorial writers etc. It's disgraceful that the R Party is as popular as it is.

Posted by: Neil B on May 30, 2010 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should get on with more recess appointments.

Posted by: sue on May 30, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

This shit will not end until the American people physically clean out Washington DC.

I hope they leave the heads on pikes as a reminder to the next government.

Posted by: Fed Up and Tired on May 30, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

"There's nothing wrong with the design of the system."

I disagree. The governing system is based on an 18th century constitution that is deeply flawed, and poorly suited to modern conditions. The Senate is malapportioned; single member districts lead to the exclusion of third parties; interests then seek to control the major parties as they cannot consistently influence governing outside that system; the conservatives have succeeded to a significant degree at doing just this.

It is not just Senate rules that allow this.

Posted by: katastrophe on May 30, 2010 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

It's often remarked that the British civil service functions well with only a handful of top positions filled by cabinet ministers and political appointment. The USA instead leaves standard civil service personnel in roles where they do not make or affect policy; over these folk are a myriad of appointed "supergrade" civil servants, and then a thick layer of political patronage, topped off by cabinet officers.

There's much to be said for streamlining this ugly mess. Perhaps Obama should just cancel all his would be appointees and add say 1000 high level civil service positions to the federal bureaucracy, then staff those positions from within the civil service.

Granted a bunch of university profs expecting a couple of years of government employment would be disappointed, but it might improve the morale of civil service personnel, it would send the appropriate middle-digit signal to Senator McConnell, it might actually improve the operations of the US government in the long run.

Posted by: Mike shupp on May 30, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Dumb question: Why do so many of these appointees need approval by the Senate?

Bush got a number of plainly incompetent people in place, and the Republic did not fall. (came to its knees a time or two. . .)

Elections have consequences; why can't the winner fill a lot of these jobs without a permission slip from the hall monitor?

Posted by: DAY on May 30, 2010 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

I'd agree, it's time to remove the necessity of senatorial approval for the second and third tier administrative position.

Posted by: Jamie on May 30, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

The Democrats have unfortunately spent decades rewarding bad Republican behavior. The Dems take the GOP's foolish objections seriously, react to their hissy fits with changes to legislative language, and abandon qualified nominees for trivial reasons. The Democrats need to treat the Republicans like the children they are until they behave like responsible partners in governing. Initially that means putting the burden of obstruction on the Republicans by taking away their recesses.

Posted by: Jimbo on May 30, 2010 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

I doubt the republicans would go along with ending the Senate's approval process for third-level managers. After all, they have no interest (or capability) to govern so all they have left to keep them occupied is meddling in personnel matters, naming schools and post offices and bringing home the pork.

Posted by: Bo on May 30, 2010 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

as alan grayson said on stephanie miller's show this week, putting the repubs back in charge of our government would be like hiring al qaeda-trained pilots to fly our airliners. they're not interested in landing the plane; they want to crash it.

Posted by: mellowjohn on May 30, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

These guys may be rewarded for their efforts with control of one or both houses of Congress in November, because their obstructionism is just seen by most of the public as the standing government's inability to get things done. Seen in these craven terms, what the GOP is doing looks like genius. It's imperative that Dems and progressives find a way to cut through the fog. Wish I had the answer -- I'd be running a campaign.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on May 30, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans have the biggest scam in the world going.

Gather money from big corporations to get elected, by telling constituents you don't believe in big government [meaning: no regulation of big corporations].

Then sit back in Congress and gum up the works so that no legislation or regulation can be accomplished.

Lazy skunks! And people fall for this?

Posted by: jjm on May 30, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Why is the President and his "staff" so inept at making this an issue? The Repubs ppeared on TV daily when three or four Bush judges were held up for a month.

Posted by: John Stickney on May 30, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Stickney is correct, Democrats can write op-eds and go on the TeeVee too. Hell, James Carville is all over the MSM these days.

What would happen if during one of his angry rants Carville were to point out that many of Obama's appointess were being held up by Republican obstructionism?

Maybe that's why it seems that the full force of the federal government can't be focused on the Gulf.

In fact, I seem to recall that the GOP was blocking Obama's pick for the number 2 job at the Dept of Interior because of a dispute over oil leases.

Why aren't Donna Brazille, James Carville, and Mary Landrieu excoriating the Republicans over this instead of piling on Obama.

Posted by: Winkandanod on May 30, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

"Unserious" is too kind. I would describe them as fundamentally unpatriotic in their refusal to fulfill their duties.

I think referring to the unserious fellows as miscreants may take a bit of the sweet away from these peculiar lads and lassies .

The feeling that whatever is said about the poor condition of right wing policy , that seems at best to end up as another strongly worded letter , adds to a rage that has had little outlet since Al Gore invented the internet , while he was discovering Love Canal , and then in his spare time deeply affecting the emotional affairs of the individuals of "Love Story" . Taking the bait and rising to provocations that are the smug , self satisfied , gas passing through congress rather than the viscera of our best and brightest republicans has the same taste as what one might imagine is the best and brightest of Mitch McConnels work easily contained in a chamber pot .

Posted by: FRP on May 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Repeat after me: republicans do not - repeat, do not - believe in governing. They don't believe in policies, so they have no motivation to discuss policy. A word of advice, don't hold your breath.

Posted by: rbe1 on May 30, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

The US does not have a well-designed system. It was designed for an era when it took months for a letter to cross the Atlantic, and weeks to learn the results of an election and a long time to travel to Washington to take office or get home to check with the voters, and while it has made many adjustments, it hasn't made enough. Hold the election on Tuesday, take office on Wednesday, not two and a half months later. We seem to spend the majority of our time being unable to get things done because someone crucial is either posturing for re-election or is a lame duck. Senatorial representation needs to reflect population more than acreage.

At this point, Obama should just do a massive recess appointment for every open position and judgeship. Yes, it's all temporary, and it would completely piss off the Republicans, but in its favor, it's legitimate, it's needed, it would point out the severity of the problem and start a useful national debate, and it would completely piss off the Republicans.

Posted by: N.Wells on May 30, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

I can understand why republicans hate government, they suck at their jobs. They apply for positions they despise, wreck the place, refuse to work, waste money and then complain they hate government as if they are not the problem.

When you hire someone who flat out says they hate the organization they want a job with it is foolish to expect them perform in a respectable manner.

Posted by: Silver Owl on May 30, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

If the system can't account for reckless and irresponsible miscreants, then it's not well designed. History teaches us that we cannot rely on good behavior, especially on the part of those in power.

Also, there's an attitude that I see a lot in the press and to some extent in Political Animal: that the Republican approach to governing is accidental.
As though they say, "Whoopsie doodle! I accidentally appointed a horse inspector to head of FEMA!"
Or that they somehow are continually ignorant of things like the necessity of the census, or health care reform.

None of this is accidental. This stuff has been going on since Reagan - they can't actually roll the government back, so they sabotage its functions, and make as much profit as possible while they're doing it.
They want Americans to believe that government is the enemy, so now we have Michael Brown at FEMA, and an FDA that can't keep up with our food industry, and cocaine parties at the MMS.

Posted by: Cliff on May 30, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Why the heck didn't Obama just appoint everyone he wanted in as a recess appointment? Le the Republicans howl about it, they're going to do that anyway. Bush certainly had no qualms about this sort of stuff and he didn't even have any real opposition to his appointments, and his appointments were horrible.

Heck, even now I would be in favor of Pelosi and Reid just putting the senate in recess so Obama can make those appointments right now. Why isn't he doing this?

Posted by: JMitzman on May 30, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Dems and BHO are responsible for the final result. Make recess appointments. Break the filibuster with a majority vote. Repubs will do it the first time they need to. Dems look inept because the act inept when it comes to exercising political power. To many voters, if they can't handle blowhard domestic opposition, how will they handle foreign opposition? The logic may not really transfer, the emotion does.

Posted by: gdb on May 30, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Dems and BHO are responsible for the final result. Make recess appointments. Break the filibuster with a majority vote. Repubs will do it the first time they need to. Dems look inept because the act inept when it comes to exercising political power. To many voters, if they can't handle blowhard domestic opposition, how will they handle foreign opposition? The logic may not really transfer, the emotion does.

Posted by: gdb on May 30, 2010 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Dems, BHO, and Benen appear to truly believe there is nothing wrong with the system. Which is why they never really advocate reforming it. That, plus fear of partisanship accusation, and no real liberal or progressive ideological beliefs, is why they look and act inept in exercising political power

Posted by: gdb on May 30, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

It is more important for Republicans to see this country fail and its population suffer, than to be patrioticaly serving as the loyal opposition.

Why any loyal American supports them is beyond me.

Posted by: Marnie on May 30, 2010 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

As long as culture of corruption Republicans continue to block Obama's nominees to critical government positions, each day that passes makes it more likely that we'll see another disaster caused by de-regulation-manic Republicans, like those at MMS, whether another mining disaster or another runaway oil gusher, or whatever, wherever.

Oooh, I get it. This is why the culture of corruption and corporate greed Republicans are dragging out the nomination process...to keep as many of their fellow conservative nutjobs in place at critical federal agencies (essentially still running the show without adult supervision)...thus endangering the lives of all U.S. citizens in the process, whether on land, at sea or in the air.

President Obama had better think long and hard about recess appointments...NOW...because every day that passes puts all American citizens more and more in jeopardy of being on the wrong end of another Bush/Cheney/crony Republican-created disaster.

Posted by: The Oracle on May 31, 2010 at 3:10 AM | PERMALINK

While Obama claims blame for everything that goes wrong, even those things that are out of his control, he does so while fully aware that he cannot SERIOUSLY be blamed by anyone sane for things such as the BP oil spill.

If a disaster befalls the country that could have been prevented if appointed officials had been made available, he'll accept blame and encourage Congress to give him the tools to better fight similar problems. For starters, the appointed position that might have prevented this problem has been on GOP hold for eight fracking months.

Obama is giving them enough rope to hang themselves with. If he makes recess appointments, he's a dictator not consulting congress. If the GOP blocks his effective governance, the GOP are saboteurs. Obama is gambling that the American public will hold the GOP responsible even as he accepts blame. He's doing the right thing, but the GOP won't play, so bad things may happen.

Good luck to us all, Mr. President.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on May 31, 2010 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Neil B, Starting last year, I wrote letters to every Democratic Senator and Representative asking why they are so silent in the face of republican opposition to the President and to the Democrats. I asked why they were not writing op-eds and commentatary in the newspapers, magazines, etc., or were not calling press conferences? Some letters were by e-mail and some were U.S. post because some congress people do not accept e-mail from citizens outside of their state or district. All of this cost a lot of money.

The most I got for my efforts were a lot (meaning a whole lot) of form letters thanking me for my support, and many, many requests for contribution (which I still get).

I only got one letter of substance, which was from one of my Senators (not the other one) talking specially about by concern about the republican obstruction and what they were trying to do to counter it. Whatever it was they were doing has not worked and I have not had the energy to start another round furitless letterwriting.

I also wrote many letters to my local newspapers (which are basically useless) but not a single letter to the editor was published. When you consider that during a five year period during the Bush administration these newspapers avoided any mention of Iraq. The did publish the death of soldiers from this state, but no news on what was actually happening in Iraq.

gdb: There is no majority vote break a fillibuster. Unless a couple of republicans came over. And one thing you can count on is Joe Lieberman gumming up the works.

Posted by: Sammy on May 31, 2010 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly