Sunday, March 7, 2010

More on Appointments: Obama's Biggest Failure

Brad DeLong suggests filling the empty Fed vacancies with recess appointments; Matt Yglesias dissents.  I mostly agree with Yglesias here.  The problem of unfilled executive branch positions is to some extent the Senate's fault, but to a much larger extent Barack Obama's fault.  It's hard to blame the Senate for failing to confirm people who haven't been nominated.

As far as confirmation problems are concerned, what Obama needs to do is:

1.  Convince the Senate he cares.  The best way to do that is to nominate people for all the vacancies (and this goes for judicial vacancies, as well).

2.  Establish a believable threat of recess appointments.  That's going to require some actual recess appointments, either in cases where a successful filibuster stopped confirmation, or where the Senate is just going slowly, or both. 

It seems to me that the first of these is far more important than the second.  If, for example, Obama gives a recess appointment to Craig Becker right now, it's going to be interpreted as a payoff to labor.  Which is fine, but it won't affect other nominations.  However, if Obama suddenly raises the visibility of the entire issue of executive nominations, which would require actually appointing a lot of people, then recess appointments would be seen in the context of Senate stalling and/or Republican obstruction. 

In my view, this has been Obama's biggest failure as a president to date.  Presidents often get bashed unfairly  for episodes in which they lose.  But presidents are bound to lose on some issues, even if they play the cards they're dealt perfectly.  Here, however, is an example of a president who isn't even bothering to play the game.

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