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Needless Delay on Nominations

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Should a president have to wait … and wait … and wait for the Senate to approve the people he nominates to serve in high office?

Of course not. Yes, the Senate has an important role to fill, but interminable and pointless delays have become the norm. They have bedeviled both Republican and Democratic presidents in recent years, and they need to stop. (Senators, for their part, point out that presidents take too long to consider people and make nominations.)

So it should be good news that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, or S. 679. It’s got bipartisan support, too; Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have signed on. Finally, something all can agree on, right?

Not exactly. S. 679, unfortunately, is the wrong solution.

The most sensible remedy is to speed up the nomination and confirmation processes, which have become ridiculously complicated. Each nominee must fill out different sets of non-standardized questionnaires, which then go through a drawn-out FBI background investigation. Other government offices pore over these questionnaires for any possible ethical concerns about the relationships or finances of the various appointees.

Yes, presidential appointees should be checked for problems. We must ensure that candidates for important positions are qualified and trustworthy. But surely the president can streamline the executive branch process, which over time has become needlessly burdensome and inefficient. It is not the responsibility of Congress to tell the president how to choose his nominees; he can fix the process on his own.

The Senate, meanwhile, needs to make its own process swifter. S. 679 does it the wrong way. It eliminates the Senate from considering nominations to a number of important offices. That’s a problem.

Sure, doing so would make the process move more quickly, but only by violating the intent of the Founding Fathers. Our Constitution, after all, is designed primarily as a framework for ensuring that no one branch accumulates too much power.

We see the founders’ wisdom in how they handled presidential appointees to high office. It’s the president’s privilege to nominate the people he wants to fill the various important posts and ensure that government functions smoothly. However, he’s not a king. So the Senate must review and approve the people he wants to fill those highly important posts.

But S. 679 shifts a portion of this important responsibility away from Congress. It “solves” the problem by punting. Now, it’s one thing to do so where a minor office is concerned, but S. 679 punts on major offices that have significant authority.

The Senate’s role in giving advice and consent on presidential appointees shouldn’t be diminished lightly. The Senate should make its own rules to speed up its internal process for considering nominations.

Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist papers, noted that senatorial review acts as “an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the president, and … tend[s] greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters.” More recently, in the 1995 case Ryder v. United States, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appointments Clause of the Constitution “is a bulwark against one branch aggrandizing its power at the expense of another branch.”

That’s what is at stake. S. 679 addresses a real problem, and there’s no question that the approval process for presidential appointees needs to be sped up. It’s a shame that this particular legislative vehicle is such a clunker.

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