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In Senate, Nominees Flounder

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Reid, meanwhile, has moved on from the small-business bill, which had become a pincushion for weeks for unrelated amendments. It ultimately foundered over Small Business and Entrepreneurship ranking member Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) demand for a vote on a sweeping regulatory reform amendment that Democrats believe is politically radioactive.

Last week, Reid beat back a filibuster attempt against — and ultimately won confirmation for — the nomination of John McConnell as a district court judge in Rhode Island. Republicans had held up the nomination for more than two years.

Reid also scheduled a vote on the nomination of Jim Cole as deputy attorney general for today. Cole is already serving via a recess appointment and handles national security issues ­— a point Reid pressed publicly last week after the killing of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Cole was first nominated a year ago. Next up will be the nomination of Ed Chen to a district court judgeship in California.

“We would like for all the president’s nominees to be given a timely up-or-down vote,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said. “That said, nobody expected parties to completely abandon the procedural options available to them, or for us to abandon our attempts to confirm the president’s well-qualified nominees.”

Republicans last week grumbled that plenty of noncontroversial nominees are lined up and ready to go, but that Reid has chosen to push through more controversial ones, such as John McConnell, first.

“We have been working in good faith with our Democrat colleagues to confirm consensus judicial nominees in general and to fill judicial emergencies in particular,” Mitch McConnell complained. “So it is disappointing that our Democrat friends have chosen to depart from this bipartisan practice and to press the McConnell nomination, which would not fill a judicial emergency and is about as far from a consensus nomination as one could imagine.”

The Kentucky Republican also said that while he has in the past opposed the filibustering of district court nominations, Democrats pioneered the practice when Republicans held the presidency and now have to live with the precedent.

He voted to block last week’s judicial pick, but the nomination moved forward anyway.

Republicans also pointed to the resumption of fights over nominations as a sign of the Senate’s light workload so far this year.

“They have nothing else to put on the floor so they have to resort to nominations,” said a GOP aide, who called the agenda “pathetic.”

But Democrats have complained that the GOP has obstructed passage of relatively noncontroversial items such as the small-business bill.

The partisan sniping, meanwhile, should resume next week, with Reid likely to bring a bill to the floor nixing oil company subsidies. An extension of the USA PATRIOT Act is also due. But the big decision for Reid is whether to bring a Democrat-only budget resolution to the floor or to wait for a bipartisan group headed by Vice President Joseph Biden to reach an agreement on a broader deal to raise the federal debt limit.

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