Washington is an unfriendly place. Some legislators hold their husband, wife and/or boyfriend or girlfriend for comfort at night, some hold their stuffed or real animals or favorite blankets, while others just hold presidential nominations.
Sen. Blunt of Missouri seems to fall into the last category. The Missouri senator has been holding the nomination of Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator since before Ms. McCarthy’s nomination was sent to the full Senate for a vote. Sen. Blunt is blocking Ms. McCarthy’s nomination due to a lack of progress by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on two levees in his state.
No one really knows where the practice of Senate holds came from. The procedure by which a senator may place a hold on a presidential nomination is described by the United States Senate’s own website as “…nowhere recognized in Senate rules or precedents and about which little is known with respect to its origins.”
In August 2011 Walter J. Oleszek, Senior Specialist in American National Government at the Congressional Research Service wrote, “The exact origin of holds has been lost in the mists of history…since the 1970s, holds came into greater prominence in the Senate as more Members began to employ holds as a way to try to accomplish their policy or political objectives.”
The use of holds in the Senate, according to experts, have been a growing and continuing drain on the legislative process. Mr. Oleszek wrote, “By the late 1970s, holds became a serious impediment to moving measures to the floor.”
Former Sen. Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, once joked that any senator who does not have a hold on a presidential nomination, “ought to feel lonely.” Sen. Daschle explained the bling-effect of a hold, “It’s almost a status symbol among Senators. ‘I have no holds. I’m going to have to pick out a nominee to get to know him or her a lot better…Hello, I’m your holder. Come dance with me.’”
Sen. Daschle had his own opportunity to dance, when he was nominated by President Barack Obama in December 2008 to be Health & Human Services Secretary. His own dance did not last long though. According to CBS News, in early February 2009 Sen. Daschle had to withdraw his name from consideration after it was discovered he had not paid over $100,000 in federal taxes.
Qualified candidates like Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator should be given the respect she has earned and her nomination voted upon by the Senate. Sen. Blunt may have the time to dance, but the nation’s pressing business is too important for self-serving archaic rules to get in the way of responsible governing.