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Nomination Deal Hits a Snag

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Sen. Tom Coburn is raising more questions about a bipartisan deal to pare down the number of executive branch positions that need Senate confirmation.

The bill to reduce the number of nominations has also taken fire from some conservative groups. David Addington, former chief of staff to then-Vice President Dick Cheney and a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, said in an
April 1 post that the Senate should accelerate its reviews of nominees but not cede more power to the executive branch.

But backers of the legislation have said that many of the positions aren’t worthy of the Senate’s time and that the cumbersome and often-lengthy confirmation process — which averaged more than three months in the last Congress and sometimes takes more than a year — dissuades talented people from agreeing to work for the government.

Most nominees are eventually confirmed by unanimous consent. The CRS report shows just 28 nonjudicial nominees in the 111th Congress were con-firmed with a roll-call vote and none as of May 6 in the 112th Congress.

The CRS report also found that nominees had to wait an average of 92 days before confirmation in the last Congress. That number has dipped to 75 days so far this Congress, but the CRS speculates that was due to the backlog at the start of the Obama administration.

Democratic aides said the package, which has the support of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), could come to the floor early in the next work period, with or without Coburn’s support.

One aide speculated that it could be tougher for Republicans to stall the reforms after they filibustered the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week, lest they look like obstructionists. The filibuster of Liu was the first since a 2005 bipartisan agreement by the “gang of 14” that preserved the right to filibuster judicial nominees under “extraordinary” circumstances.

Earlier this year, the Schumer-Alexander deal had been hailed by each party’s leadership in a rare kumbaya moment that came after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell came to a gentleman’s agreement that averted a showdown over filibuster rule changes. At the time, talk of bipartisanship and open debate in the Senate was ascendant. But in recent weeks that bipartisan spirit has waned.

Republicans have been threatening to take nominations hostage to gain leverage over the Obama administration. They have vowed to block trade-related nominees until President Barack Obama submits all three pending trade agreements as well as to block anyone he chooses for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board.

Plus, nomination fights such as the Liu vote and an earlier filibuster of James Cole’s nomination to be deputy attorney general have taken up more of the Senate calendar given a glacially slow legislative pace so far this year.

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