Has GOP Obstructionism Gone Too Far?

A Republican Senator has put an unprecedented hold on 70 executive appointees

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Republican Senator Richard Shelby has taken obstructionism to new heights: he's placed a blanket hold on all 70-plus executive nominees awaiting approval to join the Obama administration. A single hold can take a week to overturn. Shelby, rather than opposing the nominees, is seeking concessions, including an expensive tanker, for his home state of Alabama.

In December, Republican Senators attempted to block the renewal of all military funding, a move intended to thwart health care reform. Republican Senators have placed many holds on Obama appointees, including Sen. Jim DeMint's hold on the head of the Transportation Security Administration. But this marks an unprecedented escalation in the Republican strategy of obstruction. Has the GOP finally gone too far?

  • 'America Held Hostage' The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn calls this "a seminal moment in the evolution of Republican obstructionism." He writes, "It's not just the hold on nominations. It's the filibustering of health care reform, as well as the planned filibustering of financial reform and the jobs bill. And it's not really the Senate being held hostage or even the government. It's the country, which desperately needs all of these reforms."
  • Shut-Down Benefits Foreign Companies Marcy Wheeler notes that Shelby's demand would hand a $100 billion contract to Airbus, a French company, over the American Boeing. "I understand why any Senator would fight for jobs in his or her state. And I understand that there was dirty corruption in this original contracting process," she writes. But this would ultimately "force the government to award a key military function to a foreign company."
  • Giving In To Pork-Barrel Politics Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey sees no wisdom in this. "It isn't at all legitimate to hold up every single appointmentto demand more pork for one's state, or favorable bid decisions, or any other gimme impulse," he writes. "Let's not forget that we have criticized Obama for being so slow to fill these positions. We can hardly complain about that while Republicans obstruct those appointments to gain more leverage on pork. And once again, we see how pork-barrel politics winds up distorting the political process and making government less efficient."
  • A Step Too Far? The Washington Post's Ezra Klein explains that holds usually work because they're insignificant enough that few people care. "Shelby has likely overplayed his hand. The reason holds work is that they're small enough, and rare enough, that they never rise to the level of something the majority can't live with. Shelby, in putting a hold on all pending nominations, just made holds very big indeed. And he did it for the most pathetic and parochial of reasons: pork for his state."
  • 'Mad' GOP 'Tearing Down' Senate The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen fumes, "it's additional evidence, as if more was needed, that congressional Republicans are simply out of control. At a time when the nation needs strong institutions, GOP lawmakers have not only gone mad, they're also tearing down governmental touchstones like the United States Senate. It's inexcusable and unsustainable. Something's gotta give."
  • Opens Door To Ending Holds, Filibuster Long an opponent of the filibuster and "hold," Matthew Yglesias frames this as an opportunity to finally call attention to the stupidity of such Senate rules:
I congratulate Shelby on fully exploring the logic of the modern United States Senate. Why, after all, should a great nation of 300 million people have a functioning government if preventing the government from functioning can help a lone Senator advance parochial interests? Why should a Senator act like a statesman when all the objective forces are urging him to act like an unusually pretentious ward heeler? Why hold one nominee when you can hold seven or seventy? Good for him! Now can we change this process?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.