Thursday, January 5, 2012

Recess Appointments for All

Well, not all, just several important positions:
The White House confirmed Wednesday morning that President Obama will announce a recess appointment for Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at a speech in Ohio later today. Cordray was a well-liked Ohio Attorney General until last year, after he was toppled by the GOP midterm wave in 2010.

Add the National Labor Relations Board to the list of agencies that will be given new life thanks to President Obama’s decision to thwart Senate Republicans and use his recess appointment power expansively.

The administration just announced that Obama will appoint Sharon Block, Terence Flynn, and Richard Grifin to the NLRB, preventing it from being crippled indefinitely thanks to Senate Republican intransigence.

One of the board’s members — Craig Becker — had to step aside this week after his recess appointment expired. That left the NLRB with only two sitting members — not enough, according to the Supreme Court, to constitute the quorum the board requires to function.
This is amazing news. Both positions make am immidiate positive impact on people's lives, and in Cordray's case, it allows him to start running a critically important organization that would have probably never gotten had this move not been made. The most interesting part of this whole saga is the end of Brian Beutler's story:
On Tuesday, they believed Obama could take advantage of a precedent set by Teddy Roosevelt, and filled those vacancies with the stroke of a pen and the blast of an email in the seconds-long window between sessions of the 112th Congress.

He didn’t do it. That meant the Senate went back in “pro forma” session, lackadaisically gaveling in and out every three days to avoid a technical “recess,” and thus prevent a recess appointment.

It’s customary for Presidents to heed this defensive tactic. But there’s nothing that says they have to. And Obama concluded he could move ahead. According to the Wall Street Journal the administration’s own attorneys don’t think they do — the Senate’s “pro forma” sessions are meaningless and Obama retains the Constitutional right to recess appoint whomever he wants until session begins in earnest.

This creates a significant new precedent — a bold power play in the face of an unprecedented act of GOP obstruction, but also something to which Obama (and Democrats more generally) have been pretty averse. Given that aversion, it’s hard to figure why Obama would choose to create a new precedent rather than avail himself of an existing one — unless you imagine he’s daring the GOP to make a big stink about it, and thus loudly side with Wall Street against him and middle-class consumers. It’s a safe bet that’s part of his thinking. 
So we had this power all along, and were just holding back to play nice? Are you fucking serious? Since Obama was elected it's been obvious to anyone with half a brain that the GOP was doing absolutely nothing in good faith, and was opposing everything that Obama wanted to get through (no matter how trivial), solely because they were dicks. Period.

Why now? And why not more? Why not use this power to place people on the federal reserve board where they could force Ben Bernanke to take the unemployement crisis seriously?

Don't get me wrong, this is incredibly good news. But there are plenty of times I wonder if politicians could actually do something about an issue, and the barriers they cite as obstacles aren't as insurmountable as they claim. This isn't to claim that idiotic rules that allow obstruction haven't made our government institutions broken, but that those in power don't really care about changing those rules that much because obstruction isn't as bad for them as they want you to believe.

Earlier this year Harry Reid stunned everyone when he single-handedly changed the rules of the senate for a comparatively trivial reason, because the Republicans were being dicks. No one was surprised that the Republicans were being dicks, but as an advocate of quite a few bills that were deemed "not to have the 60 votes" required to pass, I was a bit floored that the rules were only rules when people decided to follow them.

The dysfunction of our government is real, but moments like this show that there is quite a bit more Kabuki going on than we realize.

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