No way to run…well, anything

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Ezra recently drew my attention to the fact that there have been an obscene amount of legislative “holds” during this administration.  They pretty much do exactly what they say, hold up the legislative process.  David Waldman explains:

In the Senate, the normal mode of bringing something to the floor is by unanimous consent [...] [The hold is] an indication to the Majority Leader, whose job it is to keep the schedule moving, that a Senator will, if necessary, object to a unanimous consent request to bring the bill to the floor.

[...] But if you don’t have such an agreement, then everything’s under the Senate’s very open debate rules, including the possibility of a filibuster. If the Senate agrees to a unanimous consent agreement limiting debate time before bringing a bill to the floor, it can’t be filibustered after that [...] So if one Senator says he’ll object to a unanimous consent agreement, it’s also an implied signal that if the Majority Leader brings the bill to the floor anyway, the objecting Senator may filibuster.

And these are not just minor positions.  The list of appointees that have been or continue to be held up include the commanding officer of Afghan forces, the Ambassador to Iraq, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, and various treasury and Homeland Security officials.

Can you possibly imagine running any organization whereby any employee could invoke procedural holds on the executive’s ability to hire people?

No.  You can’t, because any reasonable organization respects the executive authority of an appointed leader.  Boards can obviously exhibit some oversight and fire CEOs, but they mostly defer to the leader’s judgement while they are in the process of executing their strategy.  That’s why they call them executives.

But in Congress, senators like Richard Shelby can grind whole sectors of an administration to a halt just to get a little federal pork for their states.  To get around it, Presidents can make recess appointments, or threaten to, but there’s always political ramifications.  To get a glimpse of the dysfunction, check out this Washington Post interactive graphic that lets you track Obama’s federal appointments.

Yes, we truly value our system of checks and balances, but it’s an absurd proposition that the legislature can impede basic government functions on a whim.  Why then would we even bother having an executive branch?

Posted on February 23rd 2010 in news

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