Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, May 10, 2013

Washington, DC – Obstruction in the Senate reached another unprecedented level this week, with Senate Republicans hurling back-to-back procedural delays at Cabinet-level nominees Thomas Perez at the Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Instead of advancing Cabinet nominees for a “yes or no” vote, Senate Republicans relied on unprecedented procedural tricks and partisan obstruction to delay both nominations. This week’s developments make clear that what used to be sacrosanct – namely the nominations process for Cabinet-level nominees like Perez and McCarthy – is now open season for partisan obstruction using obscure Senate rules.

Additionally, the Small Business Majority released a new poll this week showing that small business owners nationwide are tired of gridlock and obstruction in the U.S. Senate and want their lawmakers to advance and provide an “up or down” vote on nominees. According to the poll, “By a 23-point margin, the majority of small business owners (53%) believe the president’s nominations deserve a timely up or down vote from the U.S. Senate.”

If observers needed another reminder about the failure of January’s compromise Senate rules reform agreement and the larger and continued need for substantial reform to the Senate’s outdated rules, this week’s proceedings make a compelling case.

See below for key reactions and commentary from both Senators and outside observers on this week’s developments:

Senate Voices:

  • Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), in a press statement: “Republicans will use any procedural roadblock or stall tactic available to deny the President qualified nominees … This type of blanket, partisan obstruction used to be unheard of. Now it has become an unacceptable pattern.
  • Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), as reported by the Washington Post: “Republican obstructionism and procedural tricks are preventing this body from carrying out its duties, including its obligation to consider important presidential nominations.” 
  • Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in a committee room, as reported by Politico: “If we bring this nomination to the floor and there’s a request for 60 votes — which we are not going to get — I think it is time for the Democratic leadership to do what the American people want, and that is to have a majority rule in the United States Senate.”
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), as reported by Politico: “You know why some of us are going to be in favor of reforming the rules of the Senate? It’s because of abuses like this.”
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), as reported by The Hill: “I really don’t understand their [Senate GOP] view, other than being an obstructionist.”
  • Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), as reported by Politico: “Gina McCarthy is going to become the poster child of their [Senate GOP] obstructionism … Gina McCarthy is a woman who deserves this promotion.”

Coverage and Analysis

  • Ezra Klein, Washington Post: “But that’s the problem with using norms rather than rules. Once they’re broken, they’re broken forever. We’ve broken so many norms in recent years that the Senate of today bears little resemblance to the Senate of 1983, much less the Senate of 1953. But because there was never a formal fight over a rule change, and because the changes came gradually, we didn’t notice. Now it’s too late. The norms that once protected the Senate are largely gone. And we haven’t erected new rules in their place.”
  • Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: “That meant that despite solid Democratic majorities and solid support from those Democrats, Obama’s judicial approval statistics are basically the worse of any of the recent presidents … And remember: the losers here aren’t just the president and liberals who want to see his judges on the bench. Ordinary people who just want to get their legal matters taken care of promptly have suffered because of all the vacancies on federal courts. It’s really a disgrace. Especially those picks that were delayed for months, only to wind up getting confirmed by unanimous votes. Especially the foot-dragging on district court nominees. Just a disgrace.”
  • Garrett Epps, The Atlantic: “So far, unfortunately, Obama and the Senate majority leadership have brought Nerf swords to the battle. Given what's at stake, Obama should produce nominees for the other three seats -- now, not later -- and Reid and the Democrats should announce that another Republican filibuster will prompt the so-called "nuclear option" -- a mid-session rules change to do away with filibusters on presidential nominations. It is tempting to say that their timidity means they don't deserve to win. Unfortunately, the real losers -- in NAM v. NLRB as in Noel Canning -- are America's workers, who deserve better.”
  • Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University, in a Bloomberg piece: “The confirmation process is increasingly turning into a hostage situation.”
  • Alliance for Justice: “Just one day after using an arcane procedural maneuver to delay a committee vote on the nomination of Tom Perez to serve as Secretary of Labor, Senate Republicans have used another underhanded ploy to delay a committee vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  …  On one level this behavior is understandable.  To Senate Republicans, one of the only things as bad as a Labor Secretary who will protect working people is an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who will protect the environment.  But the brazen nature of these committee delay tactics is shocking nonetheless.”

Poll of the Week:

“A vast 68% of respondents said that Congress was going a “poor job” at confirming nominees to lead federal agencies in a timely manner so that government can function effectively …  By a 23-point margin, the majority of small business owners (53%) believe the president’s nominations deserve a timely up or down vote from the U.S. Senate … When asked whether they supported Gina McCarthy’s nomination to head the EPA, 58% of respondents said they do based on her bipartisan experience and her experience working with business and industry leaders.”

-          Small Business Majority poll