As of Friday morning, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was threatening to put a “hold” on all of President Barack Obama’s pending appointees in the Senate. Such a move on Shelby’s part is unprecedented and worth condemning by both Republicans and Democrats alike.
The “Old Bull” is resorting to this dramatic tactic because he’s big on pork. He’s upset that the Obama administration won’t smooth the road for a couple of multibillion dollar projects that would benefit his home state.
The biggest issue surrounds a $35 billion Air Force contract to build refueling tankers. Boeing has been competing with Northrop Grumman and Airbus, companies that have teamed up to win the contract. The contract has been held up for years due to legal disputes and fraud (a former Air Force procurement officer and Boeing’s former chief financial officer both went to jail because of the deal).
So far, the chief impediment to the contract has been Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has rightly raised objections about the deal. Of course, if Northrop Grumman and Airbus get the contract, the tankers will be built in Alabama.
Shelby is throwing a procedural tantrum to try to make that happen. In the process, Shelby is making a mockery of the Senate rules.
The Senate uses unanimous consent agreements before proceeding with a bill or nomination, so a “hold” is a procedural move where senators threaten to object to the necessary consensus, gumming up the legislative works and forcing a debate.
Holds have their uses. Recently, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., placed a hold on Obama’s nominee to head up the Transportation Safety Administration, Erroll Southers.
The would-be TSA head refused to state his position on unionizing TSA workers, a legitimate national security issue that deserved to be debated. Southers later admitted he had been untruthful in Senate testimony about illegally accessing law enforcement databases to spy on his ex-wife’s boyfriend and withdrew his nomination.
That’s an example of using a hold for good, not evil. What Shelby’s doing — a blanket hold on every presidential appointment for no reason other than to extort money — is indefensible.
It also lends credence to the accusation that Republican opposition to the Democrats’ overreaching agenda is about the exercise of power rather than taking a principled stand. His fellow Republicans ought to be hopping mad about the stunt he’s pulling, as should be the Tea Party activists and independent voters who might be otherwise inclined to support the GOP as the more fiscally responsible party.
Of course, the Democrats aren’t off the hook here either. Shelby may be a Republican, but he was likely emboldened and enabled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
During the health care bill negotiations, Reid defended the obscenely expensive backroom deals given to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., by bragging, “I don’t know that there’s a senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that isn’t important to them.”
Shelby is making these outrageous threats and demands because the recent Senate history shows it gets results.
During the health care bill negotiations, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern objected to the exorbitant demands being made by individual senators by saying someone “should send the national security people over to [the Senate to] explain to them why we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
I thought hell would be a skating rink for disadvantaged youth before I found myself in agreement with Stern, but his suggestion has a certain appeal.
It’s a not a solution I necessarily endorse, but having the CIA waterboard our entitled and greed-drunk Senate might be the only way to compel them to act in a fiscally responsible manner.
Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Washington Examiner.