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Daily Dose: Is the U.S. Senate Passing the Buck?

These days, it’s pretty common to hear that we’ve lost sight of what the Founding Fathers intended. A frequent criticism is that Congress is guilty of “overreaching” into areas more legitimately the province of states and localities or the federal executive branch. So it’s interesting that some lawmakers are willingly relinquishing one of the powers explicitly vested in them by the Constitution.

Al Kamen of the Washington Post writes that the Senate yesterday elected to reduce the number of positions subject to Senate confirmation. In addition, they’re planning to allow several hundred more appointees to bypass the confirmation process altogether.

“It isn’t often this body voluntarily takes steps to curb its own power,” Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the vote. “But for the good of our democracy, the Senate must become more efficient.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said the Senate needed to focus on more important matters “than on confirming hundreds of junior and part-time positions in any president’s administration.”

Senate votes to streamline confirmation process

These are appointments seen as routine and non-controversial. By allowing them to take office uncontested, the argument goes, Senators will have more time to spend on substantive policy issues.

But the other side of the argument is that the Senate is charged with approving or rejecting political appointments for a reason — notably, to ensure presidents aren’t stocking the cabinet with unqualified loyalists. It is, one might say, an original “check and balance” meant to keep the chief executive accountable. In this view, the Senate is giving up an important responsibility that it alone has the authority to carry out. It’s passing the buck on an issue that’s not sexy or attention-grabbing and is unlikely to help anyone keep his or her seat in a close race but that Americans nonetheless are counting on to get accomplished.

What do you think? Is this a cop-out by the Senate or a valid time management decision?


“Daily Dose of the Washington Post” is a blog series created by GovLoop in partnership with The Washington Post. If you see great a story in the Post and want to ask a question around it, please send it to [email protected].

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