Senate’s confirmation phobia

Oh, to own a shoe repair shop in nation’s capital right now, what with all the foot-dragging going on in the Senate.

Of course there’s the adamant stance by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that any nomination made by President Barack Obama to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia won’t be considered by the Senate. Never mind the Constitution’s requirement that sitting presidents nominate judicial candidates and the Senate gives its consent or dissent.

Yes, Democrats have played their own political games in the past with Supreme Court nominations, but the current Senate’s confirmation phobia goes beyond the Supreme Court and extends to other federal court appointments and even other administration appointments.

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, in her most recent column, points out that last year the Senate, in Republican hands, confirmed only 11 federal judges, the fewest number for any year since 1960. And only one appellate court judge was confirmed, the first time that has happened since 1953. Currently, Rampell found, there are 76 vacancies on the federal courts, nearly twice as many when Republicans took control of the Senate after the 2014 elections.

Outside the courtrooms, a Politico report in January found the Senate had confirmed a total of 173 civilian nominees in 2015, about 100 fewer than were confirmed in 2007 when Democrats took control of the Senate during the final two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. As of January, Politico reported, more than 100 of the administration’s most senior positions, more than a quarter of the total, have gone unfilled.

One of those positions — actually three of them — are on the federal Export-Import Bank’s Board of Directors.

The Export-Import Bank, which guarantees loans between American manufacturers and foreign buyers, helps promote exports of products and services. But the bank that since 2007 has supported more than $130 billion in exports from 227 Washington state businesses, was put in mothballs for several months last year waiting for its charter to be reauthorized. It had significant bipartisan support in both House and Senate, but was blocked from a vote by House conservatives until its reauthorization was included in the budget deal that ended the year.

But while the bank is open, it’s still hamstrung by three vacancies on its five-member board. Without a quorum on the board, the bank cannot approve any new financing that exceeds $10 million or adopt any of its planned reforms, including the creation of an Office of Ethics.

Yes, we’re talking about deals that benefit Boeing, but nearly 90 percent of the bank’s loan guarantees help small businesses and the jobs they support.

Tuesday, Washington state’s Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell sent a letter to President Obama asking him to press for confirmation of at least one appointment to the Ex-Im board. The senators pointed out in their letter than since the bank’s December reauthorization, six deals worth $2.6 billion and whose primary exporter is from the state, have been stalled, waiting for a quorum on the board.

It’s not for a lack of effort by Obama. The president last year attempted to reappoint a board member whose term had expired, only to be blocked by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, who heads the Senate Banking Committee. Obama withdrew that nomination and now has nominated J. Mark McWatters, a Republican and a board member of the National Credit Union Association.

Just as the Senate should give fair consideration to Obama’s judicial appointments, it also must move on confirmations for other nominees that have a bearing on all aspects of the administration, particularly those that affect U.S. jobs.

Even in Washington, D.C., there’s only so much shoe repair business to go around.

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