Routine Obstructionism Hurts the Senate, Too.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't too happy with President Obama's recess appointment of Donald Berwick to oversee Medicare and Medicaid:

"As if shoving a trillion dollar government takeover of health care down the throat of a disapproving American public wasn't enough, apparently the Obama Administration intends to arrogantly circumvent the American people yet again by recess appointing one of the most prominent advocates of rationed health care to implement their national plan," McConnell said in a statement.

McConnell doesn't have much room to complain. Berwick was nominated almost three months ago to near universal praise; experts across the political spectrum praised his strong commitment to improving health care. His confirmation should have been a no-brainer, and the fact that it wasn't has everything to do with Sen. McConnell's decision to routinely filibuster Obama's nominees. Since Obama entered office, Senate Republicans have kept hundreds of nominees in confirmation limbo, leaving the government chronically understaffed. This was most apparent last year in the Treasury, where the GOP's refusal to confirm nominees for most of the top posts left Tim Geithner with a skeleton crew of officials scrambling to handle the financial crisis.

Recess appointments aren't ideal -- they were intended as a way to deal with emergencies, not circumvent the Senate. But it's hard to imagine what else the president could do to staff the executive branch. I'm willing to grant that routine recess appointments would in other circumstances constitute an abuse of presidential power, but they are inescapable given the state of the Senate. Republicans have run the confirmation process in to the ground, and President Obama is responding with the tools he has.

Republicans are being incredibly short-sighted in their obstructionism. Not only do they make it more likely that Democrats will follow a similar strategy when the sides are reversed, but a broken confirmation process simply isn't good for Congress as an institution. The Senate is empowered to advise and check the president; routine obstructionism risks ushering in an era where far fewer nominees are sent to the Senate for confirmation by way of recess appointments or other maneuvers. You can easily imagine a future in which presidents do everything they can to bypass the Senate, depriving Americans of an opportunity to investigate the views of any given appointee. It might be good politics to block every nomination, but in the long run, it's likely to erode the Senate's role in governing.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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