FINALLY, A VOTE FOR LAEL BRAINARD…. President Obama nominated Lael Brainard to be an Under Secretary of the Treasury for international affairs, and Senate confirmation was expected to be pretty easy. Her background and qualifications are impeccable, and Brainard was likely to get bipartisan support. Given the importance of having competent Treasury Department officials in place during a global economic crisis, it made sense to have the Senate move quickly on the nomination.

That didn’t happen. Brainard was nominated in March 2009. Last night, 13 months after receiving the nomination, the Senate voted to end obstructionist tactics and allow senators to vote up or down on Brainard’s nomination. The cloture vote was 84 to 10.

With such broad bipartisan support, why did it take more than a year for the Senate to bring Brainard’s nomination to the floor? Because Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) had a hold on the nomination.

It’s hard to overstate how ridiculous this is.

Brainard, who is set up for a cloture vote today at 5:30pm ET, has been nominated to serve in a position critical to engaging China and representing U.S. interests at the G-20, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

Brainard, a highly qualified expert in international economics, is a devoted public servant who has spent most of her career serving the American people. She previously served with distinction as: Deputy National Economic Advisor for President Bill Clinton; Vice President and Founding Director of the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development Program; Associate Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan School; a White House Fellow; and a National Science Foundation Fellow.

Brainard is supported by: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, U.S. Council on International Business, Business Council for International Understanding, Council of the Americas, Coalition of Services Industries, Emergency Committee for American Trade, National Foreign Trade Council, National Association of Manufacturers.

And why did Kyl block a vote for more than a year? Because the far-right Republican isn’t satisfied with — get this — administration enforcement of prohibitions on internet gambling. Seriously.

As former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker recently put it, “How can we run a government in the middle of a financial crisis without doing the ordinary, garden-variety administrative work of filling the relevant agencies?”

Senate Republicans are acting like children playing with matches. Jon Kyl isn’t some random backbencher, he’s the #2 Republican in the chamber. Presumably, he’s in a position to realize the adverse consequences — for the government, for the administration, for the entire country — of his indefensible obstructionism.

A mature, functioning democracy simply can’t operate this way and expect to thrive.

Update: Senators voted 78 to 19 to confirm Brainard. If it takes more than a year to confirm one qualified nominee with this kind of support, the Obama administration should be fully staffed sometime around the end of the 21st century.

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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.