Friday, February 5, 2010

A One Man Filibuster


The Senate rules on political nominees is antiquated. Sen. Richard Shelby has placed a "hold" on every single pending Obama nominee. That's 70 nominees that are waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. This  means that none can proceed on a vote for nomination without securing 60 votes to break a filibuster. 
And he can do that. One Senator can hold up the entire process for whatever reason...or for that matter for no reason.  So why is Sen. Shelby doing this?

According to Paul Waldman at The American Prospect this is extortion.  Sen. Shelby is doing this "until the Democrats give in to his blackmail and fork over a few billion dollars in defense pork for Alabama."
Republicans' audacity about these kinds of things has changed the standards of what we consider audacious. You might remember how, back when George W. Bush was president and Democrats were filibustering a few truly abominable judicial nominees, Republicans considered eliminating the filibuster on judicial nominations but keeping it on everything else. This idea was considered so radical it was termed the "nuclear option," in that it would incinerate the Senate and vaporize any hope of cross-partisan comity for all time. But now this kind of stuff barely raises an eyebrow, particularly among a press corps that has gotten used to the idea that Republicans play hardball, Democrats don't do anything about it because they're wimps, and therefore the latest outrage is barely worth taking note of.
 Politico sees it as a political concern regarding Shelby's state of Alabama.
Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby has placed a unilateral hold on all of President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees in an apparent protest over home state concerns.
Shelby is frustrated over the Pentagon’s bidding process for air-to-air refueling tankers, which could lead to the creation of jobs in Mobile, Ala. And spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said in a statement the senator is also “deeply concerned” that the administration “will not release” funds already appropriated for a Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center to be built in Alabama.
Emptywheel at Firedoglake states that this is about whether "federal money that may benefit Alabama gets released."
The key issue is that Shelby wants the Air Force to tweak an RFP for refueling tankers so that Airbus (partnered with Northrup Grumman) would win the bid again over Boeing. The contract had been awarded in 2008, but the GAO found that the Air Force had erred in calculating the award. After the Air Force wrote a new RFP in preparation to rebid the contract, Airbus calculated that it would not win the new bid, and started complaining. Now, Airbus is threatening to withdraw from the competition unless the specs in the RFP are revised.
Essentially, then, Shelby’s threat is primarily about gaming this bidding process to make sure Airbus–and not Boeing–wins the contract (there’s a smaller program he’s complaining about, too, but this is the truly huge potential bounty for his state).
Dave Johnson at Campaign  for America's Future thinks Shelby's action emphasizes the need for jobs.
$100 billion contract to build air to air tankers -- that's a lot of jobs and lots of them in Alabama.

This shows why we need a national industrial policy. The country has no policy to promote jobs and manufacturing so members of Congress are forced to do things like this to try to keep manufacturing in their district or state - competing with every other district or state. And in this case, even fighting to lose the contract for an American company!

Senator Shelby is fighting for jobs in his state, because the country is not.
Jonathon Chait at the New Republic writes about the Senate dysfunction and the decay of the process because this is basically about demanding pork for his state.
The “hold” is a now similar tool to what the filibuster was forty years ago. It’s a sparingly-used weapon meant to signal an unusually intense preference. A Congressional scholar reports that putting a blanket hold on all the president’s nominees has never been done before. But there’s no rule that says you can’t. It’s just not done, until it is.

Shelby is using his blanket hold to demand pork for his state. It’s a telling sign of the decay of the process, another indication of the power parochial interests have to block rational policymaking. But what’s to keep the minority party form simply blocking all the president’s nominees, from day one? Sure, they might catch some heat. But the president would eventually catch even more heat as his undermanned administration slid into dysfunction. And politics is a zero-sum game.
The problem is that no matter what the reason Sen. Shelby has for placing  a unilateral hold Obama's executive branch nominees, the rules that exist in the Senate allow for this kind of uncompromising behavior.  It is time to change the rules.

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