Republican resistance to President Barack Obama’s second-term plans intensified another couple of notches today.
Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced they would simply ignore a provision in the health care law calling on each leader to pick someone for a new panel with the power to dictate Medicare spending reductions without fear of congressional reversal.
The two said in a letter to Obama that such a bureaucratic maneuver was the best way they knew to protest the new Independent Payment Advisory Board, in light of their inability to kill it by repealing Obamacare completely.
At the same time, all eight Republicans boycotted this morning’s meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which under a wrinkle in the rules prevented the panel from advancing Gina McCarthy’s nomination to run the EPA.
The protest came less than 18 hours after the Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel leveraged another obscure procedural obstacle to stop Thomas E. Perez’s nomination for Labor secretary from getting to the Senate floor.
The question for the GOP is whether those oppositional tactics, which are all about passive parliamentary maneuvering rather than overt ideological argument, will provide any traction for their policy objectives or if they will only succeed at further annoying an electorate wary of partisan hijinks.
Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to stoke that sentiment when the Senate opened for business. “This type of blanket, partisan obstruction used to be unheard of. Now it’s become, really, I guess, the pattern Republicans have adopted,” the Nevada Democrat said of the back-to-back committee delays.
In the McCarthy case, at least, committee Republicans forcefully rebutted the idea that their walkout was simply a dilatory stunt. Instead, they said, they were protesting the notion that her nomination should be hustled along before they got answers — promised at her confirmation hearing — about her involvement in her current EPA post with matters of transparency.
Republicans, who have made the agency a focus of their deregulatory efforts, say they have been too often stymied by officials denying or slow-walking requests from Congress or conservative advocacy groups for information.
They also note that Democrats used the same sort of boycott against George W. Bush’s nominee to head the EPA a decade ago.
In the Perez case, Wednesday’s delay appears designed to do no more than allow additional time for opposition to build. And the move appears to be working. McConnell signaled his opposition to Perez, the Justice Department's top civil rights lawyer, and suggested the White House would need to find a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Perez would be the only Hispanic in the president's second-term Cabinet.