Putting nominations high on the Senate’s to-do list

PUTTING NOMINATIONS HIGH ON THE SENATE’S TO-DO LIST…. The last two years have been pretty busy in the Senate, with a variety of landmark accomplishments — each considered at a glacier’s pace — keeping the chamber’s calendar filled practically from the outset.

Next year, the Senate, still under Democratic control, is likely to have a lot more free time. The legislative schedule will very likely crawl to a stop, thanks to one of the most far-right House chambers in American history, which will either fail to pass good bills, or approve bad bills the upper chamber will ignore. The Senate, likewise, probably won’t bother tackling major initiatives, knowing they’d die in the House.

So, what are senators to do for the next two years? Brian Beutler reports on a wise course of action.

[W]hile the House passes legislation the Senate has no interest in considering, Majority Leader Harry Reid will have much more time, if he chooses, to devote to confirming a large backlog of Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominees — particularly numerous non-controversial picks, who will have to be renominated next year.

That’s certainly what advocates would like to see.

“Reid should concentrate Floor time on must pass bills, message and other votes that highlight differences and important matters that are or should be non-controversial, including confirming lifetime federal judges,” Glenn Sugameli, an advocate for swift judicial confirmations, tells TPM. “All of Obama’s nominees to circuit and district courts have had the support of their home-state Republican and Democratic senators and the vast majority have been non-controversial nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee without objection and approved unanimously when they finally receive usually long-delayed Floor votes.”

To be sure, Senate Republicans will do what they’ve been doing — slowing everything down, blocking as many nominees as they can. But don’t forget, the Senate will have nothing else to do for the better part of two years. Over the last two years, Reid and the Democratic leadership had a lengthy to-do list, and couldn’t eat up the calendar on nominees. GOP obstructionism meant it took three days for the Senate to consider one nominee, during which time the chamber could do nothing else, so more often than not, Reid just didn’t bother.

But that won’t be much of a hindrance in 2011 and 2012, when the entire lawmaking process goes from difficult to impossible. Why not use that time to let the Obama administration actually have the staff it needs and start dealing with the vacancy crisis on the federal courts?

The latter, in particular, is one of the overlooked scandals of the last two years. Attorney General Eric Holder recently explained that “our judicial system desperately needs the Senate to act…. The federal judicial system that has been a rightful source of pride for the United States — the system on which we all depend for a prompt and fair hearing of our cases when we need to call on the law — is stressed to the breaking point.”

Republicans, engaging in tactics that no one has ever seen before, have brought the entire process to a generational standstill. It’s untenable and arguably dangerous. It is no exaggeration to say the status quo is the worst it’s ever been — the Alliance For Justice recently reported that President Obama “has seen a smaller percentage of his nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency than any president in American history.”

If I’m Harry Reid, I’m getting ready to make this one of my top priorities in the next Congress.