Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two For the Fed

The Senate apparently cut a deal yesterday, approving a long list of executive branch nominations, most notably Janet Yellen and Sarah Raskin to the Fed (but not the third Obama nominee, Peter Diamond).  Presumably in exchange for that, and for GOP co-operation on some technical stuff that would have been a (minor, I think) hassle for the Democrats during the lame duck session, Harry Reid agreed to hold pro forma sessions through October so that Barack Obama cannot do any recess appointments.

Brad DeLong's reaction is that "we need a very different Senate."   It's certainly fair to criticize the Senate for taking forever to confirm nominations that are not controversial -- the Fed appointments were approved by voice vote, and the other 52 nominations were by unanimous consent, so I think it's safe to call these, at least, uncontroversial.  And it's true that with a "very different Senate" those types of nominations might be processed a lot faster.  Still, I think a lot, and perhaps most, of the blame for this should be place at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.  The nominations were announced on April 29 of this year, so it took the Senate five months.  That's not great...but if I recall correctly, two of the openings here go back to the beginning of Obama's presidency (the third, which Yellen was elevated to fill, only dates to this spring).  So far more of the delay is the responsibility of the president, not the Senate.  Moreover, by taking so long to nominate people for executive and judicial positions, the White House is sending a signal about priorities to the Senate.  If the signal was different, with Obama emphasizing the importance of getting these nominations done (including earlier and more frequent threats and use of recess appointments), I think there's every chance that the Senate would act more quickly.

Now, granted, part of the reason that nominations are taking so long in the first place is presumably because of how hard they are to confirm (and certainly because of the paperwork requirements that Senate committees, some more than others, have instituted).  Still, I put a lot of the blame here on the administration.  By all accounts, Barack Obama is in the market for a new chief of staff; I've mostly thought that Rahm Emanuel has done a good job in many respects, but the appointment process is definitely not one of them, and Obama should keep that in mind when he's putting his new team together.

1 comment:

  1. I can understand both sides of the filibuster debate: both how it protects minority rights, and blocks the ability to act. But with the decline of the norms of only occasional use, it has become a positive impediment to good government.

    Of all of the proposals I've seen for "fixing" the filibuster, none have taken the tact of raising the "cost" of deploying one. In the olden, Mr. Smith, days, having to physically hold the floor while you filibustered made it painful to exercise.

    Is there no combination of sanctions that would preserve the filibuster as a way of signalling very strong feelings about an extraordinary issue, but ensure that it is painful or rare to deploy? How about forfeiting the right of the filibusterer to issue a hold or offer any amendments for six months after the filibuster attempt? Or returning to the requirement that the filibusterer hold the floor for the entire period of the filibuster? Or allowing each senator only one filibuster per year? Or deploying all three at once?

    Any (or all) of these strategies would help guarantee that the filibuster becomes what it was originally intended to be: a way of signalling the importance of a single issue--and possibly forcing a compromise--when it was of extraordinary import to a minority (but not the majority).

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