Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Those Secret Holds

For what it's worth: while I don't think that eliminating "secret" holds will make much of a difference, I don't have any objection to Claire McCaskill's drive to eliminate them.  I do think that Kevin Drum is being a bit optimistic when he says:
At the very least, it will force legislators to defend their holds, and I think they're going to have a harder time doing that repeatedly with a camera in their face than they might think.
That was certainly true when Richard Shelby tried to stop every single nomination from going forward earlier this year...but it's not true for the public holds (see page 28, if you're interested) that Tom Coburn has placed against a half down nominees.  If there are no cameras in his face when his is the public face of holds, I can't imagine there will be a whole lot of cameras in the faces of the other Senators if their holds are made public.  The problem is that these are low-interest nominees, so individually no one really cares if one or another is blocked except for the few with a stake in that particular agency.  The problem is that collectively, it's too hard for an administration to be fully staffed.

Nevertheless, I think Drum's other point is a fair one -- that "you never know what use watchdog groups will be able to make of public records on holds," and that the Senate is, after all, a public body and so official business should be conducted in public.  So on balance, I suppose that forcing holds to go public is better than keeping them secret...I just don't think it matters very much.

I continue to believe that the real problem here is that the president and Harry Reid could do a lot more to force these nominations through -- the president by using recess appointments and the threat of recess appointments, and Reid by ignoring excessive holds and pushing for cloture.  What about valuable floor time?  When a determined group of Senators really opposes something, they certainly can kill plenty of time on the Senate floor (and if that group consists of 41 or more Senators, they cannot be defeated by attrition).  However, I just don't see that on most of these nominations.  Certainly not the ones that eventually get approved unanimously.  If Reid called their bluff on those nominations, odds are they would go through with very little cost in floor time, and with that plus a more active president most of the holds -- secret or not -- would evaporate.

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