Gridlock games and presidential nominations

After a period of time where it seemed like there weren’t going to be any Senate confirmations of President Obama’s nominations to fill various offices and positions, things seemed to ease up a bit over the winter. Our new Secretary of State sailed through confirmation with little more than a slight breeze in his face, and even the Secretary of Defense was dragged over the finish line after a rather rough scrum. But now the idea of confirmation battles is back in vogue.

President Barack Obama’s latest round of Cabinet-level nominees is running into deep resistance in the Senate, pitching Democrats and Republicans into another tense standoff over White House appointments.

Just days after Republicans used Senate rules to block two nominees in committee despite the fact that both have the support of a majority of senators, Democrats are planning to force committee votes without Republican consent.

If Democrats do push the nominees through to the full Senate, they would almost certainly set off a Republican filibuster, which would jeopardize the confirmations and, for now, leave vacancies at the top of two federal agencies.

The nominations in question include a couple of real doozies which certainly wouldn’t have been my choices, but then I wasn’t elected President last November. Thomas Perez for Labor just looks like another huge win for unions and an anchor on private business. Gina McCarthy actually has some supporters among Republicans, which puzzles me, but I’ve never expected anything but trouble coming from the EPA while any Democrat is in the White House, so there’s little to say there. And how Penny Pritzker’s name ever showed up on a short list for Commerce is a mystery, as her most compelling qualifications all seem to involve the amount of money she raised for Obama.

But with all that said, confirmations are something that have to happen in every administration. I’ve certainly been criticized here for saying it before, but Obama did win the election, and he’s only going to nominate people who reflect his views. If we want better nominees who agree with us, we need to do a better job of winning presidential elections.

The tactics being employed on both sides should be troubling in terms of what will happen in the future. Having all of the GOP members of a committee boycott a meeting to squelch a vote on a nominee can be viewed as little else than a straight abrogation of the duties you agreed to when you accepted a position on that committee. Having the Democrats craft a counter-strategy to arrange for votes without any representation from the other side is nearly as bad. And the latest tactic on display by the GOP – pulling a procedural maneuver to stop the adjournment of a session for no other reason than to prevent committees from even meeting – seems to be an indication that the rules system has failed us and the current structure is broken beyond usefulness.

And while nobody wants to be reminded of it, the shoe always winds up on the other foot. Yes, the Democrats started this when Bush was in office and they held more control in Congress, but the tit-for-tat is escalating. The day will come when there is a Republican in the White House again, and the Democrats will still hold a significant number of seats in both chambers. Will we still be having the same arguments then, with the only difference being which side is flying the obstructionist flag? It seems to me that maybe now is the time for both parties to agree to change the rules to get business done a bit more efficiently and just be prepared to accept that they will both be on the losing end of stick at various times in the future.