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America Held Hostage, Day One

As my colleague Jonathan Chait notes on his blog, Senator Richard Shelby's decision to put a hold on all Obama nominees, until his state gets several billion dollars in pork barrel spending, really does seem to be a seminal moment in the evolution of Republican obstructionism.

Many of the changes in American politics over the past three decades have involved the two parties slowly doing away with social norms that preventing them from using every tool at their disposal. The Senate minority could filibuster every single bill the majority proposed, but you just didn’t do that, until you did. You could use a House-Senate conference to introduce completely new provisions into a bill, but you just didn’t do that, until you did. (The topic became common in the Bush administration.) ...

The “hold” is a now similar tool to what the filibuster was forty years ago. It’s a sparingly-used weapon meant to signal an unusually intense preference. A Congressional scholar reports that putting a blanket hold on all the president’s nominees has never been done before. But there’s no rule that says you can’t. It’s just not done, until it is.

It occurred to me there must be some rhetorical clever way to capture what's going on--something that might finally break through all the noise and get the public's attention. The phrase "held hostage" came to mind and I was going to blog it. But then I saw that my friend Josh Marshall beat me to it, with a new item called "Senate Held Hostage, Day One."

I like it. But I wonder if it actually understates what's going on here. It's not just the hold on nominations. It's the filibustering of health care reform, as well as the planned filibustering of financial reform and the jobs bill. And it's not really the Senate being held hostage or even the government. It's the country, which desperately needs all of these reforms.

In other words, it's not "Senate Held Hostage." It's "America Held Hostage."

Day one and counting.