S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The year-round campaign exacts a heavy price on governance.

Blocking Obama appointees from Senate confirmation --

One way the losing party can be perceived as winning in the court of public opinion, is by keeping the majority party from being successful.  A favorite tactic during President Obama's term has been to object to his nominees for key positions, or to put holds on their passage through committee, and floor votes on final confirmation.  Ezra Klein at the Washington Post (2/14/10) maintains that there is "the hidden cost of Senate gridlock: Obama can't fire anyone."  When a department of agency is understaffed or operating with an acting head, The entire operation could be jeopardized, along with the President's agenda. 

The Senate confirmation process has bogged down in recent years, causing frustration for nominees, according to (3/29/10).   A variety of issues can slow the process.  Senators can refuse to comment or reject a nominee from their home state.  Or a "hold" by any senator can keep a nomination from progressing through committee and to the floor for a vote.  Not long ago, for example, Senator Shelby (R-Ala) put holds on 70 of President Obama's nominations. "Delays slow Obama's nominees" is the headline leading this good story. To quote:

It's a different story for people in the running for jobs that require Senate confirmation. They might have to complete lengthy questionnaires, provide detailed information about their finances and appear before a panel of lawmakers.

After all that, they could still wait for months, or sometimes even years, for the Senate to vote on whether to confirm them.

It's a daunting process — and one that some say is too daunting. It's also a major factor in President Obama's decision over the weekend to make 15 recess appointments , a process that bypasses the typical Senate confirmation process.

The upcoming nomination of a well respected Harvard University scholar to head CMS (the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid) very well might reinvigorate the health care debate when Congress returns from its spring recess, according to CQ Politics (3/29/10).  The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee has hinted that nominee Donald Berwick would face tough treatment at his confirmation hearing.The site headlined, "Expected CMS Nomination Is Next Step in Health Care Debate." To quote:

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the administration plans to nominate Donald M. Berwick to become the new administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

A clinical professor of pediatrics and health policy at Harvard Medical School, Berwick founded the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in 1991 to identify and foster best practices in medicine that would save lives and reduce suffering.

If confirmed, he would take over the long-vacant CMS post as the agency prepares to impose hundreds of billions of dollars of Medicare cost reductions mandated by the new health care overhaul law, as well as undertake an expansion of Medicaid.

When the Supreme Court's recent "free speech for corporations" ruling came down, a year-round campaign was virtually guaranteed.  Corporations will now be allowed to pour unlimited amounts of money into the political process.  Governance will become more and more politicized and less and less effective at meeting citizen needs.  The new FEC rules could impact the effect of the Supreme Court's campaign-finance decision, reports Susan Crabtree at The Hill - 2/14/10. This year the election commission will set the rules governing how outside entities coordinate with candidates and parties. The FEC is holding hearings on the matter March 2 and 3. The public will be able to comment on the issue of the SCOTUS campaign finance decision. Congress is also gearing up to try to legislate to counter the court ruling.

The year-round campaign has become self-reinforcing.  And we all play a part in it.  When we watch popularity polls to see who is ahead, when senators and members of congress spend part of every day raising campaign money, when President Obama goes on the road to campaign for a program he wants to institute -- or has already signed into law, or when the mainstream media never reports on issues, but only on who won the latest little skirmish that day, we are in permanent campaign mode.  And governance can easily simply go by the wayside.

For reference --

For your toolbox --

  1. CQ Politics: 111th Congress: Congressional Seats In Transition Charts of those who have resigned, vacancies, etc.
  2. CQ Politics: Congress Tweets Latest tweets from House and Senate members who post on Twitter.

Posted via web from Southwest Postings


Anonymous said...

Both parties play these parlor games, and the Senate rules allow it. Ted Kennedy was a thorn in the side of the GOP and the Bush White House. He knew all the rules to stall any piece of legislation. The rules give just one Senator an enormous amount of power.

So, the debate turns to changing the rules. Should we strike down all these moldy old procedures or do we fear the loss of that kind of check on power?

Carol Gee said...

Anon -- Sorry it has been a while since I checked for comments. Yours is a good one. I have very mixed feelings about your question. I think improvements can be made to the filibuster rule without totally eliminating it as an appropriate for the minority to use in the face of majority abuse. Right now the whole deal is almost unworkable.

Anonymous said...

When you consider we are asking a Senator from Delaware and Montana to sit in a room and agree on anything, it's amazing anything gets passed.

The demographics and economies of these two states are vastly different. If you look at the healthcare bill, for example, it's going to hurt urban hospitals and help rural hospitals. It's just not realistically possible to have a one-size-fits-all education, jobs, and health reform policy coming out of our Congress. They will never admit this, however, because doing so would mean they would have to give back those responsibilities to the states.