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July 10, 2013

With Senate Gridlock at Historic Levels, McConnell Ignores Reality

CongressIf you want to know the reality and severity of gridlock in the U.S. Senate, the last place you should look is to the man who actually managed to filibuster his own legislation. Yet that is exactly what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did last December, raising his hand in objection  to holding a vote on a bill he himself had introduced just hours before.  In other words, he blocked his own bill from moving forward.

 It marked a new level of absurdity in the Senate, which is already marred by historic levels of obstruction that has left most Americans shaking their heads. And it was the most visible indicator yet of the gridlock in Washington that threatens American families at home. Still, as many are demanding changes to the rules that McConnell so frequently abuses as the architect of this gridlock, he’s taken to claiming there is no problem at all.

That kind of outlandish claim would be one thing if Senate obstructionism only affected those who make a living playing political games – but it is much more serious when the effects of the gridlock hit American communities.

Yet one of the most significant potential costs of this gridlock is the effectiveness of some of our most important watchdog agencies. McConnell and his ilk are abusing Senate rules to enact a near total blockade of the people the President Obama has chosen to lead the agencies that protect the air we breathe, safeguard consumers from fraud, and enforce rules that keep workers safe on the job. They are standing in the way of key nominees from even getting a simple confirmation vote in the Senate. And this obstruction has reached historic proportions

Gina McCarthy – the nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency – served under five Republican Governors and worked for both President Obama and Mitt Romney. Yet, her nomination has been delayed longer than that of any previous EPA administrator. Republican Senators asked her more than 1000 questions – four times the amount any previous EPA nominee received.

It’s not just McCarthy at EPA. The nomination of Ken Kopocis –picked to lead the agency’s Office of Water – was delayed for so long that it had to be resubmitted.

And, it’s not just the EPA. Obstruction of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board threatens to shut that agency down. More than a quarter of the positions for agencies like the Department of Education and the Veterans Administration that require a Senate vote are still vacant – nearly 90 key jobs. Sixty-five U.S. district courtrooms lack the required number of judges.

Yet, when Republican Senator David Vitter - who previously had been threatening a filibuster - suggested that McCarthy should actually get an up-or-down vote in the Senate, Mitch McConnell claimed that meant gridlock over nominees isn’t even a problem.

Hardly. That’s like putting a new coat of paint on the Titanic and saying it’s seaworthy.

While Vitter may be ending his obstruction of one nominee, his colleagues certainly aren’t done blocking McCarthy. Republican Senator Roy Blunt remains determined to keep a hold on her nomination, freezing it in place. New voices have emerged threatening to filibuster McCarthy and keep her from doing her job, like Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. Either McConnell is ignoring reality or he has no idea what is going on with the GOP Senators he is supposed to lead.

The problem is threatening the effectiveness of not just the EPA, but the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and courtrooms across the country – each of which has seen obstruction block numerous appointments. A few comments from one Senator doesn’t change that, especially if that argument is being sold by someone so disconnected from reality that he’s filibustered his own bill.

-Courtney Hight, Director, Sierra Club Democracy Initiative Program


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