GOP Senator Blocks All Obama AppointeesFebruary 5, 2010 - by Eric Naing
Here is a perfect example of how the Senate works: Sen. Richard Shelby [R, AL] has put a blanket hold on every Obama nominee because of a disagreement over two pork projects in his state.
I have previously discussed the problem with Senate holds, but it basically boils down to the fact that any senator can block any measure, or in this case the confirmation of dozens of government officials, by threatening to grind all Senate action to a halt.
Shelby is angry that the Obama administration is not moving fast enough or may ax two earmarks that could means billions for Alabama. Talking Points Memo has the details on the two projects:
-A $40 billion contract to build air-to-air refueling tankers. From CongressDaily: “Northrop/EADS team would build the planes in Mobile, Ala., but has threatened to pull out of the competition unless the Air Force makes changes to a draft request for proposals.” Federal Times offers more details on the tanker deal, and also confirms its connection to the hold.
-An improvised explosive device testing lab for the FBI. From CongressDaily: “[Shelby] is frustrated that the Obama administration won’t build” the center, which Shelby earmarked $45 million for in 2008. The center is due to be based "at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.”
Regardless of which party is in power, the inability of the Senate to let the individuals chosen by the president to do their jobs is troubling. And this problem is significantly worse now that it was during President Bush’s first year in office.
As I noted yesterday, Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] has brought up the idea of bypassing the holds by filling vacant positions while the Senate is in recess – a move known as a recess appointment.
President Bush made 171 recess appointments during his years in office while President Clinton made 139. Obama has yet to make any. In fact, he is the only president in the past 30 years to not make a recess appointment during his first year in office.
During the later Bush years, Senate Democrats often used “pro forma” sessions in the Senate to prevent the president from making recess appointments. A “pro forma session” is when the Senate is called into session, often for just a few seconds, by as little as one senator. Though nothing gets done, the Senate is technically in session, which means recess appointments can’t be made.
This tactic, however, is not available to Republicans as long as they remain the minority party in the Senate.