The process of confirming presidential nominees has degenerated into drawn-out political battles in recent years, leaving dozens of positions vacant as both parties trade barbs that often have nothing to do with the people chosen to fill the posts. It has also taken attention away from other Senate priorities, such as the economy.
Sen. Susan Collins and a small bipartisan group of senators have come up with a simple way to avoid some of these needless battles. Under a bill that was approved by the Senate earlier this month, about 170 executive branch jobs and 3,000 Officer Corps jobs would no longer need Senate confirmation. The jobs include public affairs positions and others that don’t involve making policy.
The Senate also approved a measure to reduce the number of part-time board and commission posts that require confirmation. Combined, the bills will reduce the number of jobs requiring Senate confirmation by one-third.
“It is hard to surmount the turf battles and prerogatives and jurisdictional disputes, but in the end we did,” said Sen. Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “It is the first progress that has been made in reforming the nomination process in decades.”
She and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., wrote the bill on behalf of the committee. Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., were sponsors for the Senate Rules Committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were co-sponsors.
The bills still need approval from the House, but it usually defers to the Senate in such matters because only the Senate votes on confirmations.
It is unusual for the Senate to give up any of its power — it is charged with “advise and consent” when it comes to presidential nominations — but this was overdue.
“Prioritizing our work for the American people, by eliminating some Senate-confirmed positions, does not diminish the Senate’s authority,” Sen. Collins said in a press release about the bills. “To the contrary, it will enable the Senate to focus on the critical work of creating jobs, reducing the debt, strengthening our homeland security and conducting more effective oversight of the executive branch.”
She noted that the number of jobs requiring confirmation has skyrocketed. There were fewer than 300 such positions when John F. Kennedy was president. Now, there are thousands. In the executive department, cabinet secretaries, their assistants and others in policymaking posts will still require confirmation.
This is a small step, but it shows that lawmakers can work together to get things done.