Obstruction of all by one man

[Via Balloon Juice]

You probably heard about this:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has put an extraordinary “blanket hold” on at least 70 nominations President Obama has sent to the Senate, according to multiple reports this evening. The hold means no nominations can move forward unless Senate Democrats can secure a 60-member cloture vote to break it, or until Shelby lifts the hold.

“While holds are frequent,” CongressDaily’s Dan Friedman and Megan Scully report (sub. req.), “Senate aides said a blanket hold represents a far more aggressive use of the power than is normal.”

The Mobile Press-Register picked up the story early this afternoon. The paper confirmed Reid’s account of the hold, and reported that a Shelby spokesperson “did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking confirmation of the senator’s action or his reason for doing so.”

It goes without saying that this shows what a great, venerable institution the Senate is, what a serious, bipartisan legislator Shelby is, and (of course) what a failure Obama has been at changing the tone in Washington.

Here’s what I’d like to know: is there any limit to how much a strong-willed minority can slow things down in the Senate? Could a new Republican Senator do something like this every day and bring everything to a complete halt for months on end?


One Senator is blocking “all executive nominations on the Senate calendar.” One guy holding up all executive nominations. Now I would like to assume that only the civilian nominations are being held up, not the non-civilian. The latter mainly deal with promotions for officers. No Senator in his right mind would do anything to block those.

So why is he blocking all those nominations, something that appears to be unprecedented in our history? For earmarks:

According to the report, Shelby is holding Obama’s nominees hostage until a pair of lucrative programs that would send billions in taxpayer dollars to his home state get back on track. The two programs Shelby wants to move forward or else:

– A $40 billion contract to build air-to-air refueling tankers. From CongressDaily: “Northrop/EADS team would build the planes in Mobile, Ala., but has threatened to pull out of the competition unless the Air Force makes changes to a draft request for proposals.” Federal Times offers more details on the tanker deal, and also confirms its connection to the hold.

– An improvised explosive device testing lab for the FBI. From CongressDaily: “[Shelby] is frustrated that the Obama administration won’t build” the center, which Shelby earmarked $45 million for in 2008. The center is due to be based “at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.”

Yep, one guy is holding these nominations hostage so he can get pork for his state. None of these nominations can proceed until he gets what he wants. From what I read, it takes a vote of 60 to overcome the hold. Meaning that all the other Republicans have to go along with this in order for it to succeed. If even 1 or 2 of them voted for cloture, this abuse of the hold would fail.

And, of course, as soon as he gets what he wants, another obstructionist can do the same thing until he gets what he wants. And so on. Thus obstructionists can prevent the Executive branch from having the people needed to do its business.

It will be interesting to see if all the other Republicans get behind such an abuse.

Because this really does not have much to do with party but to illustrate how amazingly undemocratic the Senate has become. Because, as with filibuster abuse, once this tactic has been used, it will be used again by both parties. A strong Democratic minority could do the same thing to a Republican government.

All to fill the pork barrels.

[Listening to: Simple Man from the album “Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd” by Lynyrd Skynyrd]