NO WAY TO RUN A GOVERNMENT…. We learned a few weeks ago that the Senate wants to confirm President Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — a seemingly important post when terrorists are trying to blow up American passenger airplanes — but can’t. A majority would confirm the nominee, but a right-wing senator (Jim DeMint) won’t let the chamber vote.

This is playing out throughout the government. The president has also nominated a variety of well-qualified officials to fill key posts in the Treasury Department, including positions with jurisdiction over tax policy and international finance. Their nominations would be approved if the Senate were allowed to vote on them, but Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) won’t let confirmation votes happen.

It’s creating something of an easily-avoided, indefensible crisis. Annie Lowrey has this report:

Congressional dithering on nominees is, in and of itself, nothing new…. But President Barack Obama’s first year has brought an unusual number of holds, and on unusually prominent positions. One year into the Bush administration, there were 70 appointees awaiting confirmation. One year into the Obama administration, there are 177. And dozens of those holds are directly affecting the agencies responsible for the United States’ security and foreign policy, amid two wars and an amped-up terrorism threat. The United States has no ambassador to Ethiopia, no head of the Office of Legal Counsel, no director at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, no agricultural trade representative.

Indeed, the TSA spot wasn’t the only one left empty when it was most needed. For instance, during the worst of the Honduran constitutional crisis, in June, the United States had no assistant undersecretary for the Western Hemisphere — the position responsible for coordinating the response of the United States’ policymakers for South America. Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, had slapped a hold on Georgetown University professor and longtime diplomat Arturo Valenzuela to protest the Obama administration’s relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and its response to Honduras.

In the midst of a global financial crisis, Treasury Department offices sit empty because Senate Republicans have holds on nominations. In midst of a terrorist threat, a variety of a national security posts remain unfilled because Senate Republicans have holds on nominations.

Most of the time, the far-right senators blocking the process aren’t even especially concerned about nominees themselves, but have some larger point to make. In perhaps the most breathtakingly stupid example of 2009, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) blocked an important U.S. trade representative for months because he was worried about Canadians’ ability to buy candy-flavored cigarettes.

A functioning democracy simply can’t operate this way and expect to perform as it should. But Republicans do it anyway, in large part because they realize the public won’t hear about this, and there will be no electoral consequences for their recklessness.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.