Shelby Blocks Nominations Over Redstone Pork
Alabama’s Richard Shelby has placed a hold on all nominations until a 2008 earmark for Redstone Arsenal is released. The Mobile Press-Register:
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, is blocking Senate action on executive branch nominations, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this afternoon in an e-mail.
In response to a question from the Press-Register, Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle confirmed that Shelby has placed a “blanket hold” on most pending nominations.
By placing a hold, a single senator can stop the Senate from voting on a particular nomination, often as a way of gaining leverage on an unrelated issue. It is not clear when Shelby placed the hold or how many nominees are affected. While individual holds are not unusual, Gary Jacobson, a congressional expert at the University of California at San Diego, said he knew of no previous use of a blanket hold.
TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro adds:
According to the report, Shelby is holding Obama’s nominees hostage until a pair of lucrative programs that would send billions in taxpayer dollars to his home state get back on track. The two programs Shelby wants to move forward or else:
– A $40 billion contract to build air-to-air refueling tankers. From CongressDaily: “Northrop/EADS team would build the planes in Mobile, Ala., but has threatened to pull out of the competition unless the Air Force makes changes to a draft request for proposals.” Federal Times offers more details on the tanker deal, and also confirms its connection to the hold.
– An improvised explosive device testing lab for the FBI. From CongressDaily: “[Shelby] is frustrated that the Obama administration won’t build” the center, which Shelby earmarked $45 million for in 2008. The center is due to be based “at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.”
Needless to say, people aren’t amused.
The abuse, the arrogance, the corruption … it’s just breathtaking. Shelby is proving himself to be little more than a petty, greedy thug, undermining our system of government until he’s been paid off to his satisfaction.
What’s more, it’s additional evidence, as if more was needed, that congressional Republicans are simply out of control. At a time when the nation needs strong institutions, GOP lawmakers have not only gone mad, they’re also tearing down governmental touchstones like the United States Senate.
It’s inexcusable and unsustainable. Something’s gotta give.
This is more like just a stick up. Gimme my money and I’ll give you your Senate back! Worse than a squeegee man and not much better than a bank robber, Shelby is shutting down the president’s ability to appoint anyone to anything until he gets his way. In a sense Shelby’s gambit is little different from what countless other senators of both parties have done in the past, using the senate rules to get the White House’s attention to pry some money free from the federal government. But the scale is unheard and the moment is different. The only mystery about this one is which is more outrageous — Shelby’s hold or the fact that the rest of the senators of both parties allow it.
I’m sure McCain and talk radio hosts who have been blasting the Democrats for their demonstrably craven political behavior on this issue will be making Shelby an issue as well.
This is really no way to run a government.
Kenton Kelly (aka Dennis The Peasant):
Republicans should always remember that Barack Obama is President of the United States largely because of people like Richard Shelby (and George W. Bush)… Republicans who talk about “fiscal restraint” to the gullible while engaging in the exact behavior they decry in Democrats.
Still, while I’m no fan of Shelby — I still harbor ill will over his malicious and slanderous 1986 campaign against Jeremiah Denton — nor of the use of holds as leverage for unrelated matters, I’m inclined to cut him some slack here.
First, he’s up for re-election this year, so bringing millions of dollars home to Alabama during troubled economic times is especially important to him. Second, at least one of these projects was previously approved — and I don’t know what Shelby gave up to make that deal — under the previous administration. Third, when we’re incurring federal debt in the trillions of dollars, it’s hard to begrudge a few measly million for what sound like perfectly valid national security-related projects. [Update: Oops — misread the first figure; obviously, this is real money we’re talking about.]
Is the use of a blanket hold a sleazy way to get the job done? Yup. But I’m not sure what other leverage Shelby has. The state is represented by two Republican Senators, neither of whom are named Olympia Snowe. With a Democratic president and 59 Democratic Senators, he has to use every trick in the book to fight for his state.
UPDATE: Yes, I wish this wasn’t how spending decisions were made in Washington. I’d much prefer a needs-based approach. But I don’t expect Shelby to unilaterally disarm, either. So long as we’re spending ridiculous amounts in pork, I expect him to fight for Alabama’s share.
UPDATE II: If John Cole and Marci Wheeler are correct, and the 2008 bid was awarded in error and thereafter rescinded by the Air Force, then most of the above is moot and Shelby is unjustified in this action even by the low standards of hardball politics. Unlike Cole and Wheeler, I’m not upset by Shelby’s preferring “foreign” companies doing business in Alabama over “domestic” ones up north. But using an extreme tool to get pork for the state after losing a legitimate bid is wrong, whereas using it to get back something legitimately awarded and subsequently stolen is within the bounds of fair play.
UPDATE III: Steven Taylor and Ezra Klein have backgrounders on the hold process. I agree with both that the privilege is too subject to abuse; indeed, its very existence is absurd in most conceivable circumstances. And Steven is likely right that the projects in question aren’t really “pork” in a meaningful sense.