Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Congressional Molasses

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Congressional Molasses

Article excerpt

Little by little, in a slow accretion of individual actions, many of which are insignificant in themselves, Congress is changing its role in the government.

It blocks action instead of shapes it. It puts strings on appropriations to restrain what even nongovernmental organizations might do. It withholds money that the United States legally owes to the United Nations. It refuses to allow participation in world trade negotiations. The list could go on.

Consider how the Senate is exercising its power to confirm presidential nominations - by not using it. For a long time, committees have killed nominations simply by not acting on them. This saves face for the nominee in that he or she is not actually rejected by the Senate. Killing nominations becomes a different matter when it is applied en masse, as has been happening recently. So many nominations for federal judgeships are backed up in the Judiciary Committee that Chief Justice Rehnquist has complained about it. From time to time since Republicans regained control of the Senate in 1995, the same backlog (in this case, ambassadorial nominees) has built up in the Foreign Relations Committee. As a result, positions aren't filled, and much government work goes undone. The chief justice, the president, and others complain that the Senate is shirking its duty, that at least it ought to vote on the nominees. The trouble with this argument is that there is no duty on the Senate's part to vote at all. Even if it did vote, it might postpone consideration of the nomination indefinitely. The real difficulties here are of a different nature: (1) Senate rules and practices (especially practices) make it easy for any senator to delay a vote, both in committee and in the full Senate. And (2) the committee chairmen and the Senate leaders are afraid (probably with reason) that if there were votes, the nominees would be confirmed. But (3) in one respect, the Senate leadership does not control procedure. …

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