Wednesday, October 30, 2013


News broke yesterday from the Senate: "Rand Paul is officially holding Janet Yellin's nomination until Harry Reid agrees to hold a vote on auditing the Fed."

This strikes me as a more or less proper use of a hold, and demonstrates the merits of retaining holds on executive branch nominations.

I like that Paul is specifically attempting to influence the institution involved in this particular nomination. I like that he's not making an unreasonable demand; he's asking, apparently, for a vote, not an outright policy concession (I don't know whether he's asking for a protected, majority-wins vote or just getting to the point of a cloture vote; the latter would certainly be a very reasonable ask). I like that this is a policy which he's personally interested in; this isn't really a partisan hold.

Just to clarify: I'm not taking a position on whether Paul's audit deserves a vote, let alone whether it's a good policy choice. What I am taking a position on is that this is basically how Congress is supposed to work -- it's supposed to be possible for individual Senators, even from the minority party, to be able to take meaningful policy initiatives.

Now, the flip side of this is that Harry Reid does need to bring this one to the floor, and he's going to be willing to spend floor time on it; in fact, he may do that regardless of this hold. Sixty Senators can always overcome a hold, albeit at the cost of floor time, and ultimately Reid isn't going to be stopped from moving forward on it because one Senator wants something. However, my guess (and the above is all the reporting I've seen on it) is that Paul has at least a fair chance of getting what he wants.

All of this is why I support simple-majority cloture on executive branch nominations, as opposed to eliminating filibusters (and with them, presumably, holds) entirely. Technically, the Majority Leader could agree to respect holds even if they had no leverage at all behind them, but realistically I very much doubt that holds could survive the end of cloture.


  1. I have a couple of questions:

    1. By claiming that this is a worthwhile thing to issue a hold over, aren't you tacitly suggesting that it's worth a vote? If it wasn't worth a vote, then it would be a poor use of the hold procedure, right?

    2. I don't agree with you about holds, but I follow your argument right up until the end, when you advocate majority cloture rules on executive branch appointments. You claim that with the elimination of filibuster rules that senators who make holds would have no leverage, but how, for example, would Rand Paul have leverage in this case if the cloture vote was simple majority? The fact that Reid might need to consider holding the vote is because the minority party has the power to block the nomination, but with a 51 vote cloture process Paul wouldn't have that leverage. Why would an elimination of the filibuster for appointments lead to the end of holds, but the 51 vote cloture would not?

    1. The idea is that Rand Paul's threat to filibuster guarantees that several days of Senate calendar are eaten up if he doesn't get his vote, not that he is trying to defeat the nomination. With 60-vote cloture, a united minority party can indefinitely delay the nomination, to the point where the minority party actually has the power to block nominations. With a filibuster on a 51-vote cloture, a small number of members of either party can threaten to delay a vote on a nomination, but a working legislative majority can respond by invoking cloture, the same way that a working legislative supermajority could invoke cloture on Yellen right now and just eat up the Senate clock.

      I'm not sure I agree with JB that allowing a small number of senators to eat up the clock on nominations at their discretion as a broad facilitation of "legitimate" horse trading and executive oversight is such a great thing. You either need a social norm that members limit their holds to issues they are really passionate about and don't abuse their power, or some sort of rules that either substantially limit the power of individual senators to abuse the power of the hold or provide a test of passion. Perhaps Rand Paul's judicious about his holds and will always provide unanimous consent to proceed to vote on every one of the numerous uncontroversial executive branch nominees, but somehow I don't seem to see his vote popping up in cloture roll calls very often, so I kind of doubt it. This sort of horse trading seems to be the exception rather than the norm under the current Republican senate minority; instead, holds are typically used either to prevent executive oversight outright or as a way to eat up a couple days before a 98-0 final vote. Switching to 51-vote cloture would fix the former (at least until Republicans form a working Senate majority and Democratic presidents can't get enough votes for a nomination), but it wouldn't fix the latter.

  2. It might also be important to point out that by adhering to social norms in his hold, Paul is reinforcing them. In an important sense, the loss of social norms in Congress is due in part to a lack of understanding, on the part of the newbies, as to how power works.

    1. Well, to be fair, they were elected by people who hate democratic government and want to burn it down when elections don't go their way. They were elected to implement a take-no-prisoners, burn-the-place-down, who-gives-a-fuck approach.

  3. I think it is imperative that the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, and each of the Federal Reserve Banks, be audited annually by an independent outside auditor.

    And you know what? THEY ALREADY ARE. For instance, here is the audit opinion on the 2012 financial statements of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

    (I know this is not your point, but it still bugs me that this joker is taken seriously.)

    1. Sorry -- here is the correct link for the 2012 audit opinion on the Boston Fed. The link above is broken.

  4. Paul has been calling for an audit of the Fed for a long time, but I've never been able to figure out exactly what he means. He's (apparently) not asking for a financial audit (of the sort that alkali correctly points out is already being done). Can anyone out there clarify this--what does Rand Paul mean by an audit of the Fed? Here's what's on his website:

    One of my first actions in the U.S. Senate was to introduce legislation allowing for a full audit of the Federal Reserve. This legislation, S. 202 The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2011, is a Senate version of similar legislation long-championed by and introduced this session in the House of Representatives by my father, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas.

    The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2011, will eliminate the current audit restrictions placed on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and mandate a complete audit of the Federal Reserve to be completed by a firm deadline, finally delivering answers to the American people about how their money is being spent by Washington.

    We must take a critical look at the Fed's monetary policy decisions, discount window operations, and a host of other things, with a real audit - and not just pay lip-service to the idea of an audit. At a time when we're seeing great volatility in small Euro-zone economies like Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, it is more crucial than ever that we have real transparency at our own central bank.

    Here's a link to the actual bill:

    Read the bill and tell me what he means. Again, he can't mean simply a financial audit, as that already occurs.

    When he talks about it, he uses language that suggests he wants a review of the Fed's policy actions, and for some outside "auditor" to determine whether those actions are appropriate....
    So, can I appoint the auditors?

    1. I agree, it is confusing; but by the weight of his public statements so far, by "audit the Fed" Rand Paul actually means WOO WOO COMMIES ARE IN YOUR UNDERPANTS GET FLUORIDE OUT OF THE WATER SUPPLY PURPLE MONKEY DISHWASHER

      He doesn't mean anything by it. I very, very much doubt that Rand Paul even knows what the Federal Reserve System does, except something something fiat money Obama stole the gold in Fort Knox.

    2. That's sort of my point. This is not a real piece of legislation with a real purpose. It's a sham.

    3. Nominally, this is what Paul wants eliminated from the law, part of 31 USC § 714 (b) (he also wants rid of (f) but that's a lot lengthier and even less straightforward).

      "Audits of the Board and Federal reserve banks may not include—
      (1) transactions for or with a foreign central bank, government of a foreign country, or nonprivate international financing organization;
      (2) deliberations, decisions, or actions on monetary policy matters, including discount window operations, reserves of member banks, securities credit, interest on deposits, and open market operations;
      (3) transactions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee; or
      (4) a part of a discussion or communication among or between members of the Board and officers and employees of the Federal Reserve System related to clauses (1)–(3) of this subsection."

      I'd be curious to hear Paul explain why these are unreasonable, but also what he expects to find.

    4. " . . . finally delivering answers to the American people about how their money is being spent by Washington." ????????

    5. @theBitterFig: Thanks. I'm not clear on the scope of and/or rationale for (1), but it seems that the point of the carveout is that an audit shouldn't include a review of the Fed's monetary policy decisionmaking, which seems to me to be correct.

      You can throw around the term "audit" in a way that can sound sort of plausible -- "We should audit the organ transplant surgeries performed at Mass. General Hospital" -- but what would that really mean? Is that something Deloitte or PWC have any special qualification for commenting on? At the end of the day, "auditing" is something that is done to opine on financial statements, and that already happens at the Fed.

  5. Just to clarify: I'm not taking a position on whether Paul's audit deserves a vote, let alone whether it's a good policy choice. What I am taking a position on is that this is basically how Congress is supposed to work -- it's supposed to be possible for individual Senators, even from the minority party, to be able to take meaningful policy initiatives.

    Where's there one shred of evidence that a crank without a coalition is "entitled" to get anything done in the Senate, let alone hold the Federal Reserve hostage to do it?

    This is the folly of "minority rights". Rand Paul is not representing an oppressed discreet and insular minority. He is representing the losers who ran a bad candidate in the last presidential election and refused to compromise their ideological claims sufficiently to attract voters. These losers are not oppressed at all; they are simply outvoted.

    And they are entitled to absolutely NOTHING from the political system except the right to run again and try to win next time. They shouldn't get to hold up Fed nominations or anything else.

    Indeed, by allowing them to do this, we disincentivize them making the ideological changes (otherwise known as "growing up and accepting that they have to compromise with liberals, urbanites, and minorities") that they need to make.

    The rule should be that unless you are actually a discreet and insular oppressed minority with no remedy at the ballot box, the political system should continually piss on you until the next election. Rand Paul should get NOTHING. He should be completely powerless. And then, he will be forced to move to the center and make deals and tell his constituents what they don't want to hear. The concept of "minority rights" does not apply to simple political losers.

    1. We're not going to convince each other, but just for everyone else...

      A system in which minority views get nothing is not a system that I'd recognize as democracy, and it's not a system I'd want to live under. Democracy, to me, is rule by the people -- by all of the people, not just majorities.

      For practical reasons, we use majority (or plurality) vote in many circumstances, both in elections and in legislatures. But the idea that 50% + 1 get their way in everything is only slightly more acceptable than the idea of 50% - 1 getting their way in everything.

      And that's even more true when we start dealing with real life, with its multiple, complex, issue landscape, in which there's absolutely no guarantee at all that an election winner is in the majority across all issue areas.

  6. I don;t agree that placing a one-persopn "hold" on a presidnetial appointment to an adminsitrative position is a legitimate way to gain a legislative advantage. It's simply obstruction of government. If a Senator wants to accomplish something legislatively, deal with the usual legislative procedures. Use of this strategy is undemocratic.



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