The U.S. Senate’s “Blanket Hold”

News today that Richard Shelby, Republican from Alabama, has placed a “blanket hold” on all Obama Administration nominees, until a defense contract is renegotiated to favor Northrop Grumman, a company with ties to Alabama.  What this means is that the Senate can not proceed on confirming anybody nominated for any executive branch position until Shelby gets his way.  This includes attempts to fill vacant positions in the Defense Department, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

This is the first time a Senator has tried a blanket hold (meaning its a hold on all nominees) since Larry Craig (R, Idaho) did it in 2003 to try to get more airplanes for Idaho’s National Guard.  He backed down when it became public.

And this of course comes on top of Jon Kyl’s (R, Arizona) hold placed on six key posts in the Treasury Department.  The Obama Administration decided to delay the enforcement of Kyl’s “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act” until June of this year, presumably because it thought there were more important things to worry about right now, like saving the economy.  Kyl decided to fight back by blocking the confirmation of nominees for the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for International Affairs, the Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, the Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development, the Assistant Secretary for International Economics and Development, the Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets, and the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy.  These are key posts absolutely essential to the function of the Treasury Department, and the Obama Administration’s attempts to shore up the economy.  Kyl apparently has decided that online gambling is more important than trying to get the economy going again.

As a citizen, my first reaction of course is anger.  It sure looks like these guys don’t care very much about the wellbeing of the country.  As a political scientist, I wonder about this institution in the Senate that is the “hold.”  Why is it so effective?  It is a form of filibuster, where the Senator refuses to allow a vote on an issue, and thus the Senate drops the issue because it doesn’t have enough time to spend a full debate on any particular issue.

Why?  What else could the Senate possibly be doing that they don’t have time to legislate?  The filibuster is the same thing blocking health care reform, and if the Democrats in the Senate wanted to, they could force the Republicans to actually play out the filibuster, meaning they could force them to actually take the floor in debate and hold it until they finally had to go to the bathroom.  But the Democrats don’t do that, because “they don’t have time.”

Wouldn’t it seem that health care reform and the operations of the government are relatively important matters?

I genuinely don’t understand this, unless it is really a function of self-interested legislators who are only interested in maintaining their seats and don’t really care at all about governing.  If anyone wants to argue against that position, I think the burden of proof is theirs to carry.


About Jake Wobig

I teach international relations and comparative politics at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina
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