You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Poisoning the Nomination Process

Republicans are in high dudgeon over the recess appointment of Don Berwick to run Medicare and Medicaid. Here, for example, is what Representative Tom Price had to say on Wednesday: “Democrats held no hearing, allowed no public testimony, and called no votes on this nomination. ... [They] made absolutely no effort to follow the regular, established process for confirming a presidential nomination."

You know what? He’s right. President Obama and his allies have circumvented the traditional nomination process--depriving the country of a chance to scrutinize this nominee and, along the way, have an intelligent debate about the implementation of health care reform. But the Democrats are merely doing what the Republicans have done to them all year long, by using the filibuster to block debates.

This is particularly true when it comes to nominations. Until a few weeks ago, 120 Obama nominations were pending in the Senate, in most cases because Republicans had placed anonymous “holds” on them--that is, blocking debate on the nominations by threatening to filibuster them. Senate leaders from the two parties eventually brokered a deal to clear about half of pending nominations, some of which had been languishing for more than a year. But half still remain unconfirmed. And while Democrats were known to use anonymous holds during the Bush Administration, investigative reports from National Public Radio suggests the Democrats never took the practice to these extremes. 

The holds are in keeping with the rules of the Senate, as currently written; Republicans are technically within their rights to use them. But having poisoned the nomination process, are they really surprised--and can they really blame--the Democrats for responding in kind? “If you’re going to push the rules as far as they can go,” my colleague Jonathan Chait notes, “you can hardly complain when the other party does the same thing.”