November 17, 2007

The Silly Season Keeps Congress In Session

In one of the sillier moves in this session of Congress, Harry Reid will have the Senate gaveled to order every four days in the next few weeks, just to ensure that George Bush will make no recess appointments. As few as two Senators may be present for these operations, but that will be just enough to extend the bitterness over the battle to nominate and confirm presidential appointments to federal agencies and the judiciary:

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), in a showdown with the White House over executive branch nominations, refused yesterday to formally adjourn the chamber for a planned two-week Thanksgiving break in order to thwart President Bush's ability to make recess appointments.

Rather than allowing the Senate to take a full break, Reid employed a rarely used parliamentary tactic by scheduling "pro forma" sessions twice a week until early December, when Congress returns for three weeks of work. Under that plan, a few senators, perhaps just one Democrat and one Republican, will briefly open the chamber for debate during the next two weeks.

The move blocks Bush's ability to make recess appointments, which would allow his choices to serve out the remainder of Bush's term.

Reid accused Bush of slow-walking Democratic nominees for bipartisan oversight agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission. Reid said he had made good on a summertime promise to move several key Bush nominees, including new Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, but Bush has not officially nominated some Democratic selections for the bipartisan commissions.

Reid wants to send a message to Bush to get a handful of Democratic nominations to the Hill. The White House responded that the 110th Congress under Reid has allowed more than 200 other nominations to languish without any attention at all. These positions include judicial nominations for circuit courts and for the Federal Reserve, and given the high profile of monetary policy recently, these gaps should have been filled long ago.

This reflects poorly on both sides, and it shows how leadership of both parties have allowed gotchas to replace governance. It doesn't take a genius to understand that a little give on both sides would have obviated the need for recess appointments at all, as well as a showdown over them. A spirit of cooperation and a modicum of coordination could have allowed the Democratic appointees to get presented in exchange for quick consideration of the bulk of the other appointments.

Those who like to determine political calculus will ask which side wins and which side loses in this standoff. My guess? The media and the blogosphere win, and the American public loses. The sillier Congress acts in response to perceived and real slights by the White House, the lower their approval ratings will fall, until they start plumbing the depth of single digits and start a "throw them all out" reaction from the American electorate.


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