A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday came up with a plan to reduce by one-third the number of executive nominations that require full Senate confirmation.
Under the plan, some 200 executive nominations made by the president would no longer go through what can be a time-consuming and politically divisive confirmation system. It would also exempt some 3,000 military officer corps positions from Senate approval.
The plan was put together by Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the committee's top Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and the heads of the House Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
It is the outgrowth of an agreement reached last January by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to take steps to make the Senate a more efficient and less partisan body.
Schumer said it struck a balance between getting important government positions filled quickly and preserving the Senate's "advice and consent" role. "The Senate was designed to be a thoughtful and deliberative body, but the confirmation process has often become gridlocked."
Alexander noted that the Senate would continue to be responsible for confirming about 1,000 presidential nominees, almost four times as many appointees as President John F. Kennedy had.
Currently, some of those nominees can wait months for the Senate to act, either because of the slow process or obstacles put up by senators who either don't like a candidate or are looking for leverage to oppose an administration policy. Lieberman said that 18 months into the administration of Barack Obama, one-quarter of Senate-confirmed positions were still vacant.
Under the proposal, among the positions no longer needing confirmation are the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the deputy director of the National Drug Control Policy, the State Department assistant secretary for public affairs and the Treasury Department director of the Mint.
The plan must go through the regular legislative process to become law, with approval by the Senate and House. Separately a Senate rules change was proposed that would create a faster process for confirming some 250 part-time positions.
Reid and McConnell asked the four senators to come up with the plan as a way to relieve what had become a poisonous atmosphere in the Senate, with some Democrats demanding changes in filibuster rules they said Republicans were using indiscriminately and Republicans complaining that the minority was being gagged under the Democratic majority.
Reid also agreed to give Republicans more chances to amend legislation in exchange for a promise that Republicans would block fewer bills and nominations.
The Senate then proceeded to defeat several proposals to make it easier to stop filibusters while agreeing to prevent single lawmakers from anonymously holding up legislation and nominations.