Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why I Expect Nothing Out of Bauer-Ginsberg

Sparked by my dismissal of the president's electoral administration commission yesterday, Rick Hasen got an update about what the Bauer-Ginsberg Commission is up to. Short answer: holding hearings, doing research, planning on a January report.

Which is all fine, and I have nothing against Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg.

But I'll stick to what I said back in February: a presidential commission is the wrong way of going about this, and Bauer and Ginsberg are the wrong people to head it if the goal is to really change things.

In particular: presidential commissions are excellent for one kind of situation: when everyone agrees on what should be done, but no one wants the credit (or blame). That's why I want a presidential commission dedicated to slashing vetting for executive branch nominations; presidents don't want to admit that the costs of allowing a few bad apples through are much lower than the costs associated with the current system, nor do they want to have their own reforms blamed when the inevitable bad apples show up. On top of that, presidents aren't likely to want to admit that there's nothing wrong with having some nominees who might, looked at in just the right angle, present an appearance of a conflict of interest.

If Obama had presented a serious proposal back in February...well, it probably would have died, but perhaps it could have passed the Senate, and there's always a chance it could have been tossed in to whatever omnibus bill was going through. And I suppose it's still possible that the commission will produce something worthwhile and that Obama will push it hard.

But a much more likely outcome is that we get a lowest common denominator report from the commission, avoiding anything that either party objects to, and after the story appears on page A17 that's the end of it until the same problems show up in 2014 and 2016.


  1. Slightly off-topic, but is it really clear that there isn't a partisan cleavage on executive branch nominations? Isn't the current GOP much more dependent on finding ways to obstruct and hamper the efficient functioning of the executive branch? Reform might be a slight gain for future Republican presidents, but it could be a bigger loss to current and future GOP legislators (and other interested party actors).

  2. "And I suppose it's still possible that the commission will produce something worthwhile and that Obama will push it hard."

    Maybe the commission is all about creating the initial appearance that voting reform and modernization is bipartisan and a consensus issue. On that basis, the Democratic Party can then begin making it a major issue on their agenda. What's baffling is that at this point, starting things so late, it's going to be a tight squeeze to get anything substantially implemented and given test runs in minor elections by 2014 or even 2016.


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