A U.S. Senate that routinely blocks votes on legitimate presidential appointments is one that is better at partisan gamesmanship than at running the country. The specter looms this week that fed-up Senate Democrats may use an ill-advised procedural maneuver to try to fix things. The better solution is for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to stop denying President Barack Obama an up-or-down vote on his nominees, at least for agency and Cabinet posts.
It was hoped that after the presidential election McConnell, R-Ky., would begin to be more reasonable when it came to voting on presidential picks and not routinely require a 60-vote supermajority to break a filibuster before an up-or-down vote on nominees. Instead, McConnell has continued the strategy even for noncontroversial nominees who would be expected to win confirmation handily if a vote were ever taken.
Now Democrats are preparing for a strong-arm tactic that would remake the more deliberative Senate to look more like the House, where the majority party controls decisions. Democrats may force McConnell's hand by bringing some nominees to a vote. If McConnell blocks the vote with a filibuster, Democrats have threatened to change the Senate rules for overriding a filibuster through a technical maneuver so the votes could proceed on at least agency and Cabinet appointments — though not necessarily judicial or legislative ones. Dubbed the "nuclear option" for the way it would snuff out any remaining bipartisanship in the chamber, the move is a surrender to Washington's hopeless gridlock.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, has resisted filibuster reform and refused to modestly change the rules by a majority vote during a window of opportunity in January. Changing them more drastically now would set a troubling precedent where the minority party loses the leverage that has been a central feature of the Senate. "Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not," McConnell recently warned. "And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate."
But the reality remains that McCon-nell is abusing his power by blocking the work of the Obama administration and remaking public policy without having to submit to the legislative process. Among the nominations held up are those for vacant seats on the National Labor Relations Board, the only federal body that polices collective bargaining rights for the nation's employees, and that of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A letter signed by 43 Republican senators says they won't confirm any nominee as the bureau's director because they object to the bureau's power. But that should be a debate over law, not a specific nominee's appointment to an agency job that is on the books.
This is no way to run a country.