For years now we've been lamenting the partisan obstruction of President George W. Bush's nominees. Most notably and often this has come in the context of the judicial nominations where Senate Democrats have gone to unprecedented lengths to prevent qualified jurists from filling long-vacant seats on the federal bench. Indeed, in the nearly eight years of this administration, the group of nominees withdrawn because they faced a filibuster in the Senate has grown into a not-so-exclusive club. Remember Miguel Estrada or Charles Pickering or William Haynes and on and on?
In the twilight of the Bush Administration, the once partisan minority that seized majority control of the Senate -- not to mention the House of Representatives -- now has expanded its campaign of obstruction to block anyone "lucky" enough to be nominated by this President. Such a state of affairs, no doubt, is a problem not only for this President and his executive branch, but also for the federal government and this country as a whole since the simple fact remains that appointed decision-makers are necessary for the government to do its many jobs.
Which brings us to the irony pointed out by columnist George Will earlier this week: If Senate Democrats continue to obstruct the confirmation of President Bush's nominees to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), then there will so few Commissioners left come January that the FEC will be unable to act at all. While such a situation is particularly ironic since Democrats have predominantly favored more and stricter campaign finance laws, an ineffective FEC will neither be a new phenomenon nor a serious problem.
Right now -- in fact, since the end of April -- there is not a single Commissioner on the FEC who has been confirmed by the Senate for the term in which he or she is serving. Indeed, although the FEC is supposed to have six commissioners, no more than three of whom can be from the same political party, only five seats are filled because Michael Toner resigned without a replacement in March. That leaves three Commissioners -- Robert Lenhard, Hans von Spakovsky and Steven Walther -- whose recess appointments will expire when this session of Congress ends in few days, and two others -- David Mason and Ellen Weintraub -- who hang on to their seats as "holdovers," despite the fact that their confirmed terms already ended.
Barring any last-minute Senate confirmations -- which, quite frankly, don't seem likely -- it's only the latter pair of commissioners, Mason and Weintraub, who will still be eligible to show up for work at the FEC in the New Year. The other three cannot "holdover" in their FEC seats. Thus, if the Democrat-controlled Senate continues to steadfastly refuse to confirm the President's nominees, the FEC will be left with only two commissioners -- or two short of the minimum required by federal law for the FEC to actually do anything.
While we certainly do not believe it will be either a tragedy or a catastrophe if the FEC ends up being effectively shut down after the holidays, it is significant to note, as Will did in his column, that we are just entering a presidential election year. Presumably, this is precisely the time when the FEC should be fully staffed and operational in the minds of the very politicians who will be responsible if the lights are on but the offices are vacant come January.
Of course, we could be as cynical as Will is in his op-ed by suggesting that maybe those same politicians have their own self-interest in mind in continuing the confirmation obstruction. After all, not only do they get to score political points by bragging about standing up to President Bush by refusing to confirm his picks, but they also get the added benefit of facing underdogs in an election where the agency that enforces the rules has been sidelined. Perhaps the incumbents won't be able to dodge the rules with impunity because someday they'll have to answer to an FEC, even though it will likely be confirmed by them, but they can certainly test the line.
Whatever the reason, we don't mind the result, which should be freer elections. We just wish the politicians would get us there for a good reason -- which means more political speech by more Americans than more arcane restrictions -- rather than their bad one.December 12, 2007
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