Our broken Senate

OUR BROKEN SENATE…. Senate Republicans have engaged in unprecedented abuse of the chamber’s filibuster rules, but the problems is exacerbated by the unprecedented abuse of Senate “holds.”

Of the 200 or so Obama nominations pending, some 75 have gotten through committee but were being held up for various reasons in the Senate, administration officials and Congressional staff members said. During their last gasps of official business after the health care vote on Thursday morning, senators cleared 35 nominees by unanimous consent — far short of the 60 that administration officials had been hoping to get through by the end of the year.

One of those finally approved was Miriam Sapiro, who had become the Obama administration’s prime example of stalled nominations since being chosen in April to be a deputy United States trade representative. Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, put a hold on the confirmation of Ms. Sapiro, an Internet policy consultant, to try to pressure the trade representative’s office to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization against Canada over a law that bans cigarettes with candy flavors.

Think about that. A government office remained vacant for months, and a qualified nominee was stuck in limbo, because some far-right senator was worried about Canadians’ ability to buy candy-flavored cigarettes.

That would be mind-numbing enough if it were an isolated incident, but inane Senate holds on qualified nominees have become painfully routine. The General Services Administration has been without an administrator because Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) blocked the president’s nominee — he wanted more funding for a federal office building in downtown Kansas City. The president’s nominee for the U.S. ambassador to Spain faced a hold because Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wanted more information about the dismissal of AmeriCorps’ inspector general.

The nominee to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission faces a hold. Judicial nominees have been subjected to holds for no apparent reason. Dawn Johnsen was nominated to head the Office of Legal Counsel, but she’s spent nine months in procedural limbo. Patricia Smith is prepared to be the Department of Labor’s Solicitor, responsible for enforcing workplace protections, but there’s a hold on her, too.

There isn’t even anyone in charge of the TSA right now, because of another Republican hold. (More on that later.)

Put simply, the failed and discredited Republican minority is effectively breaking the United States Senate.