July 31, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Reflexive Opposition to Nominations Must Stop

This column is about appointments, but I want to start with a reading recommendation, a new essay called “The Rising Threat of Deflation,” written by my American Enterprise Institute colleague, free-market economist John Makin. Every Member of Congress should read it, starting with Senate Republicans and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Makin makes a clear, compelling and disturbing case for why we face a serious threat of deflation, which could leave the American economy in intensive care for years to come. Dealing with that threat by ameliorating it ought to be an urgent priority — and that means serious stimulus now.

The co-chairmen of the fiscal commission, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, warned over the weekend of the “fiscal cancer” represented by our deficits. They are right. There is a cancer, and it requires the fiscal equivalent of chemotherapy, which will be debilitating and painful. But no responsible doctor would dispense chemotherapy to a cancer patient already in intensive care with H1N1 until the patient was healthy enough to handle the side effects — or the harsh cancer treatment could lead to something much worse.

The Senate’s refusal to drop or overcome a filibuster to extend unemployment benefits and give aid to states that continue to provide a massive fiscal drag on a sick economy — to demand that they be paid for now, which is just foolish given the weakness of the economy and the danger of deflation — is simply shortsighted and reckless. I know how tempting it is to keep denying the Obama administration a victory, but there are greater stakes here.

The Senate’s agenda in coming days also includes the looming vote on Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. I have been struck by the reflexive partisan opposition to Kagan — who by any objective standard is extraordinarily well-qualified by temperament, intelligence and experience for the court.

In recent decades, it has become a too frequent occurrence to see knee-jerk partisan opposition to top level nominees. In some ways, I find it baffling. What if Republicans succeeded in this case in derailing Kagan? Would they end up with a second nominee who would be better from their perspective? No way. All they would gain is a symbolic defeat for the president.

When Democrats ganged up on Miguel Estrada’s nomination by George W. Bush to be an appeals court judge — a man also extraordinarily well-qualified by temperament, intelligence and experience for a higher court — it was stupid, wrongheaded and counterproductive.

They defeated Estrada and thereby derailed any option for him ultimately to be nominated to the Supreme Court. So they ended up instead with John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Was that better? The answer should be obvious: no. But partisan victories that are setbacks or embarrassments to presidents too often become reflexive goals these days.

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