Bill to cut Senate confirmations gets final action

The House gave final congressional approval Tuesday to a bill that would save the slow-paced Senate some time by eliminating the need for confirming nominees to some 170 executive branch jobs and 3,000 military officer positions.

The vote for this rare instance of streamlining Senate procedures was 261-116. The bill goes to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature.

The bill also establishes a five-year term for the nation's census director, to ensure that the position is separated from politics and the election-year calendar. In 2010, there was no director in place for that year's census until months before the count started. In 1990, it was one week before the count. The position still would require Senate confirmation.

At the start of the Obama administration, there were 1,215 executive branch positions that required Senate confirmation. President John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, had only 286 positions to fill but the number had jumped to 914 by the end of the Clinton administration in January 2001.

Among positions that will no longer need Senate approval are a chief scientist in the Commerce Department, directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the top press spokesmen for the Defense, Treasury and State departments, members of the Council of Economic Advisers, the commissioner of education statistics, the Homeland Security Department's chief medical officer, director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau and members of the Mississippi River Commission.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the bill would streamline "the bureaucracy and red tape that comes with requiring the Senate to confirm presidential appointments." She said the change would only have an impact on lower level positions that a president routinely fills.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said, "The current nominations process has grown too cumbersome and too complicated, discouraging individuals from seeking appointments." He said only 35 of the 100 most needed leadership roles were filled in the first 100 days of the Obama administration, and 200 days into the administration, only 50 percent of key national security officials were in place.*

He called the bill "a common-sense solution that preserves the role but unburdens the process" in the Senate.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said he opposed the bill because Obama bypassed the Senate last January, making recess appointments when Republicans insisted the chamber had not adjourned.

Gohmert said Obama demonstrated "the most disdain for Congress and the confirmation process of any president I'm aware of."

The Texas Republican referred to recess appointments of Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members of the National Labor Relations Board. The Senate was holding so-called pro-forma sessions at the time, when little or no business was conducted.

The bill had bipartisan support in the Senate, and its four main supporters praised the House action: Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; Susan Collins, R-Maine and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

They said the bill, which passed the Senate last summer, would help clear the backlog of stalled presidential nominations.


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