Barack Obama scolded Republicans two weeks ago, at least by proxy, when meeting with Senate Democrats at their retreat. Obama objected — and rightly, in my opinion — to the practice of blanket “holds” by Senators intended to force a change in policy by the White House. Obama offered an example of a nominee for the General Services Administration who can’t start her job not because of any problem with her nomination, but because Republicans want to push back on administration health-care policies:
Speaking to Senate Democrats at their annual retreat, Mr. Obama complained that Republican objections have created “a huge backlog of folks who are unanimously viewed as well qualified” but who get held up because a senator is trying to force the administration’s hand on an issue.
As an example, Mr. Obama said his nominee to head the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, is being held up over issues unrelated to GSA’s business of running federal buildings.
“Let’s have a fight about real stuff. Don’t hold this woman hostage. If you have an objection about my health-care policies, then let’s debate the health-care policies. But don’t suddenly end up having a GSA administrator who is stuck in limbo somewhere because you don’t like something else that we’re doing,” he said.
As it happens, I actually agree with President Obama on this issue. I think the hold is a good technique to force a second look at objectionable appointees, when the objection really is the appointee. When the policy is the problem, though, that falls under the “elections have consequences” rule. A President is entitled to make appointments — in fact, he’s required to do so — and the Senate should give the nominees an up or down vote in a timely manner.
But you know who disagrees with me, and who disagrees with President Obama? Senator Obama:
The process is so time-consuming that holds are often respected out of necessity. It is often not known which lawmaker placed the hold on a given nominee.
Mr. Obama made use of that power when he was in the Senate. He was one of several senators in 2007 to put a hold on Hans A. von Spakovsky, whom Mr. Bush nominated to serve on the Federal Election Commission.
And, according to news reports, Mr. Obama in late 2005 also put a hold on all Environmental Protection Agency nominees. Mr. Obama said he was trying to force the EPA to move more quickly to issue rules on lead-paint exposure.
Gee. Maybe President Obama can have a few moments to scold Senator Obama, too — or maybe President Obama needs to get off of his high horse.
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