Americans deserve a government that works, but that is not what they are getting. Despite President Barack Obama's re-election, Senate Republicans still are filibustering highly qualified Cabinet-level and judicial picks to hamper the executive and judicial branches. Government and the courts cannot effectively function without confirmed appointments. The confirmation process should be used to ensure candidates are qualified rather than to hamper the president's ability to lead.
Under Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Republicans have used the filibuster, which takes 60 votes to end, as an opportunity to partially nullify the president's re-election. There are more than 100 nominees, including Cabinet secretaries, judges and other top posts caught up in Senate confirmation delays.
Obama wants the Senate to promptly confirm three new nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the nation's second most important court after the U.S. Supreme Court. Senate Republicans would rather reduce the number of seats on the appeals court than allow Obama to fill them. While the president noted Tuesday that both political parties over the years have abused the confirmation process, Republicans complained Obama was trying to pack the court.
The president's frustration is understandable. Republicans block qualified nominees for the flimsiest of reasons, and they employ the filibuster to keep government agencies and oversight boards they don't like from operating. For example, they have vowed to block the confirmation of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to which he had earlier received a recess appointment.
The National Labor Relations Board, the five-member board that decides labor disputes, is another example. Republicans are so hostile to the board that they have denied it a working quorum. Obama has five nominees for the board, but it isn't clear whether they will ever get an up-or-down vote.
Exasperated Democrats are agitating for rule changes that prevent filibusters for presidential nominations. Normally it takes 67 votes to alter Senate rules, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is reportedly considering invoking what is known as the "nuclear option" to change the rules with a simple majority vote. The name stems from the negative impact doing this would have on the Senate, putting an end to any remaining bipartisanship and collegiality.
Changing the rules would remake the Senate in the image of the House, where the majority party controls every action — and majorities can change. What is needed is more common sense and less partisan maneuvering. Democrats should drop the nuclear option, and Republicans should quit abusing the confirmation process.