Congress’ record in recent years confirming Presidential cabinet and court nominees falls somewhere between non-existent and pathetic. Controlled by party politics, our elected officials have managed to flip the old adage of compromise: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” into one of obstinacy: “If you can’t beat ‘em, block ‘em.”
More than 110 of President Obama’s nominees, spanning all levels of our federal bureaucracy, are currently facing confirmation delays. According to a Congressional Research Service study, Obama is the only President in the past 30 years with an average waiting time (nomination to confirmation) for circuit and district court nominees greater than half a calendar year.
Over the same time period, Obama’s percentage of circuit court nominee confirmations ties with President Clinton’s for the lowest. In case you didn’t notice, Obama and Clinton both happen to be Democrats. Coincidence? Hardly.
Granted, Democrats are no Saints. According to the same report, President George W. Bush’s circuit court nominees took an average of 277 days to receive confirmation. Whatever happened to a simple show of hands?
All these numbers tell us two things. On one level, Senate rules like quorums and filibusters impede procedural progress, not to mention their own purpose – to offer equal representation, encourage compromise and prevent abuses of power. All these rules end up accomplishing is the empowerment of disgruntled congressmen to hold our government hostage and paralyzing the leader of the executive branch. Is this for the greater good of the country? No, it’s for what people such as Senator McConnell call the greatest achievement possible, economy be damned — holding the other party’s president to one term.
But what price do we pay for the pettiness of these actions and the esoteric rules our government keeps in place? We give Gina McCarthy, Obama’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1,120 written questions to answer, including more than 650 by one man, Senator David Vitter (R- LA). What do they want to know that is so pivotal to her confirmation? Her favorite ice cream flavor perhaps? Maybe the real meaning behind her eighth grade essay on “Heart of Darkness?” Regardless, the fact remains that while we sit and wait, no one’s running the EPA.
Without a leader, you can only send information up the flagpole to a certain point, which isn’t the top. Sure, you can have an acting commander, a temporary plug, but as the name implies they are merely pretending to fill the void. The fact that an agency such as the EPA continues to stay open for business shows that either it does not need a leader and anyone in the role has merely a perfunctory title or that our government often runs at half-strength, with a backlog of court cases, poor progress within agencies, and non-existent collaboration between government departments.
I would argue the latter. Why? Look no further than the recent IRS scandal. Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman’s term ended last November. In his place Steven Miller became “acting” Commissioner. Look how that turned out. First we get the Tea Party scandal. Next we get Miller’s resignation.
When senseless tragedies such as 9/11 occur, we reflect back on our governmental failures not to assign blame as much as to learn lessons for moving forward. Many times, the lessons we discover revolve around general vulnerability heightened by poor communication and collaboration within our government. People who should be in jail never serve time. Warnings from other countries about potential terrorists go unheeded. Vital information to make the best decisions for our country never reaches the people who need to know. A confirmation logjam leaves no one running the different vessels of our government. History shows us how that tends to play out. Sadly, it’s not a happy ending.
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