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Needless Delays and Filibusters Run Amok: A Case Study

Dan Pfeiffer walks through the the unprecedented delays and filibusters use for nominations and legislation over the last year.

Nine months ago, the White House sent the nominee for GSA Administrator, Martha Johnson, to the Senate for its consideration. Today, she was finally given a vote and was overwhelmingly approved by a margin of 94-2 [Update: make that 96-0 after the remaining two switched their votes].  What happened in between was a perfect example of why Americans are so frustrated with Washington.

Martha Johnson is an ideal candidate for Administrator, which is highlighted by the unanimous vote she received in committee. And the only thing that's changed between now and then is that some in Congress found it to be politically expedient to delay her vote.  This isn’t just about one person filling one job – it hampers our ability reform the way government works and save taxpayer dollars by making it more efficient and effective. 

What’s worse, Martha Johnson is hardly the first nominee to fall victim to this trend of opposition for opposition’s sake. Nine of the President's nominees found themselves stuck in this same situation only to be confirmed by 70 or more votes or a voice vote. Several nominees, including two members of the Council of Economic Advisers, had cloture withdrawn and were passed by a voice vote.

Maybe votes on these nominations were delayed as a bargaining chip for someone's pet project – more likely it was part of a political strategy of opposition and obstruction at all costs.  Whatever the reason, it's obvious from the margins of the final votes that it had little to do with their qualifications.

This isn't just a problem for nominees; it’s become a problem for legislating, too. Historically, the filibuster has been used as a way to try and reach a bipartisan compromise; now it's just a tactic used to gum up the works. The Senate has had to cast more votes to break filibusters last year than in the entire 1950s and '60s combined. This has prevented an honest debate from taking place, which has made it impossible to find agreement on important legislation that would benefit working families in this country.

What's clear from all of this is that we need to change the way business is done in this city. If we're going to have a government that works for the American people, then we need to focus on the things that actually matter to them, like jobs and health care.  Every day we waste delaying votes on well-qualified public servants or obstructing progress on problems that need solving is a day we’re not doing our jobs.  It’s time to put an end to these partisan political games and get back to work.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director