I’m delighted that President Obama used his recess appointment power for several key administration posts (and the government printer – WTF?). He should do it more often, and I suspect will have occasion to if Senate Republicans continue the most egregious abuse of the chamber’s rules in US history.
But there is a way out of this mess, which really should not be a partisan issue — really. That is to end the filibuster for executive branch appointments. Many Senate Democrats are pushing for more far-reaching rules, such as ending the “silent filibuster” (which I also support), but getting out of the confirmation mess really is a no-brainer, and hasn’t received the attention it deserves as a common-sense reform.
Alexander Hamilton said it most succinctly in Federalist 68: “the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.” The ability of individual senators to stymie specific executive branch nominees significantly undermines any President’s capacity to develop sound administration. That was in fact probably the Republicans’ goal, although many of the filibusters were just using positions as bargaining chips.
Most importantly, though, executive branch filibusters are relatively negligible in terms of the parties achieving their policy goals. One could at least argue that the minority should be able to filibuster, say, President Palin’s nomination of Joe Miller or Sharron Angle to the Supreme Court. If she wants them as Interior Secretary, that would be a horrific policy decision, but it’s a decision that can be reversed as the voters throw her out of office. Yes, there are consequences to terrible executive officials, see, e.g., Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales, but they are temporary. Justice John Bolton would have been a disaster; former UN Ambassador Bolton is busy foaming at the mouth on Fox News and not doing anyone any harm. (In fairness, Gonzales was actually a pretty decent state judge).
If there is a truly bad presidential appointment, any future Democratic minority should be able to get enough Republicans to join them and reject the appointment outright, although I admit that the GOP’s flight from reason makes this less likely.
Ironically enough, failure to move on this issue will in fact provide less accountability for the executive branch officials. Presidents will start using more and more recess appointments, avoiding hearings and scrutiny altogether. Perhaps that’s what the royalist faction of the GOP wants, but the rest of us should not have to put with it.
We’ve had lots of talk of late about the decline of the American Empire. Maybe the US government can’t police the world, and if the Republicans have their way, it won’t even be able to run the country. But it should be able to run itself.