I can't wait to see how this gets defended

Sometimes one learns of chutzpah so shameless, one almost has to admire it. Almost.

My friends, I give you Alabama's Senator Richard Shelby (via TPM):
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.

How many nominations is Shelby holding? All of them. And why?

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."

Surely, though, the Democrats were just as bad. Right?
A San Diego State University professor and Congressional expert told the Mobile paper "he knew of no previous use of a blanket hold" in recent history.

While Shelby dances the Obstructionism Tango (never before danced so brazenly), I have a few questions.

Will the same people who clutch their pearls and swoon over the federal deficit somehow find a way to defend this? How about the people who were up in arms about the (admittedly appalling) deal Ben Nelson struck to support health care reform? Will they find a way to somehow justify Shelby's legislative extortion?

And will either Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins or (hey... hope springs eternal) Scott Brown vote with the Democrats to end this disgrace? Time will tell, I suppose.

Update: Steve Benen has similar thoughts, but I posted mine first.


  1. Sorry, but the real outrage is not the blanket hold, the real outrage is how many positions are filled by political appointees. This is precisely the reason why there should not be anywhere the number of political appointees that there are. Why is the deputy undersecretary of the interior not a GS career employee? There are far too many hacks, or simply people who lack the requisite experience, in far too many posts. I would much rather have a FEMA head who has spent a lifetime working his way to the top then someone whose main qualification was in Arabian Horses.
    As to crafting policy (and not administration, which should only be career employees) let the Secretary of the Department be allowed to hire a set number of staffers directly, since their main function would be to advise the Cabinet Secretary (or agency head)

    If Civil Service reform were done, such blanket holds would be impossible. Shelby might put a blanket hold on a nameless undersecretary of transportation, he could never get away with it with a Secretary of State Clinton.


  2. You make a good point, and one with which I will not argue. But, given the manner in which such posts are filled at this time, Shelby's actions are disgraceful.

  3. First, Sen. Shelby... the only benefit to this action is that it may convince voters that the Senate and House are filled with maroons. Neither party has a lock on good governance; Ds really are just as bad as Rs, and Nelson's vote for sale is no worse than Shelby's vote being for sale.

    As to charo's lament, I'd actually prefer that the top few levels of management fear for their jobs if they suck. I have some experience in dealing with the Feds, and career civil service employees can be spectacularly bad[0]. Career civil servants know they will never ever ever ever be fired for incompetence, for stupidity, even for selling crack cocaine on the steps of the Capitol. At least political appointees can be made to walk the plank, and the party in power has reason to get them on the plank and push them off the end if they suck.

    [0] Yes, yes, yes, not everyone is bad. But there needs to be some way to fire people who really, really cannot perform the job.

  4. We are a government of the people. Just as the President is the Commander In Chief of the military, he also has been tasked the wonderful joy of running our government; hence his appointees. Remember, these are the same appointees who are suppose to follow the lead from the WH. Would you rather be stuck with those in the EPA Mr. Bush somehow crowned and placed to rule for life?. If we change things today and made many of those agency heads from appointments to Civil Service, would you want them there forever? It may not be the ideal situation. If we were to rid ourselves of appointments then we would be left with those in very powerful positions who were not elected running our government. No thanks. There are so many well qualified appointments who shine like stars. As a career Fed, I can assure you we were never in a position where we could not jump in and correct the sins of the appointees once they departed. :)

  5. gj, yes, we all know GS employees are good for nothing layabouts who exist to suck down your tax dollars. ok. snark aside, I would prefer to see a head of FEMA who has years of experience in FEMA, and who can be appointed without Senate confirmation, but if you are worried about their competence, let the appointment be on a yearly basis above a certain GS level. They can still be vetted, I just don't see why it has to be Congress that does it. As to Cabinet Secretaries, those I agree should be appointees since they craft policy. I am talking about administrative roles being assigned to GS employees.

    Anyway, I can't see how my idea is any worse than having ZERO people fill the positions because one Senator plays politics. We are a year into Obama's Presidency and he has a huge number of positions still unfilled because of Republican intransigence. Also,the sheer number also creates backlogs.

    Far, far too many appointees are getting their positions based on things other than competence. I can accept that for Ambassadorships (the Counsels do the real work)
    but we have gone overboard.


  6. I didn't say all, or even most GS workers sucked. I've worked with some really talented GS types. But. The ones who are good sometimes go on to other jobs. The ones who are happy to be there, they stick around, like plaque in the government arteries. We need to fix GS employment to solve that problem.

    As far as Shelby, why is he worse than Nelson? Nelson threated to withhold his vote unless he got what he demanded, and he was paid off. Shelby is gumming up the works until he gets what he demands, and he's probably wondering why he hasn't yet been paid off, because that's how the Senate Democrats are doing the nation's business. It is all a part of the Democrats Culture of Corruption, and now I guess the Republicans what their piece of the pie.

    Corruption, it's what's for dinner.

  7. Where did I mention Shelby? So why bring up Nelson? It is the system that is at fault, reform the system. As to Shelby, I don't think he is corrupt, he is doing what he thinks is best for his state (read your history, it is how the Senate was envisioned to be). Do you really believe Shelby needs these projects to be re-elected, or that he is personally profiting from them? Then why say he is corrupt?
    You really can be vile. You mistake simple politics for corruption. (which is all I accused Shelby of doing) What an elevated view of yourself you must have. Most GS workers are useless, all Democrats are corrupt and have now corrupted the Saintly Republicans.
    Good lord you can be a sad joke.