Senate Shark Jump Announced

February 4, 2010 8:12 p.m.

You’ve seen the reports that Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama has taken the perhaps unprecedented step of placing holds on ALL of President Obama’s nominees until he gets the money for a couple of big earmarked pork barrel projects he feels entitled to back in his home state.

It’s an eye-popper no doubt, with gallons more audacity than Obama ever could have hoped for. But I wonder if this story might not end up amounting to much more than the sum of its parts because it brings together three or four of the issues roiling American politics today in a bundle of smack-you-in-the-face arrogance that’s too much to ignore.For Republicans and the Tea Party set you’ve got pork-barrel spending and earmarks, two catchwords that are frequently abused and used to paint with too broad a brush but in this case seem pretty fairly to describe a senior senator’s power to wrestle tens of billions of federal dollars back into his home state.

For Democrats, there’s the outrage at archaic Senate obstructionism which has rapidly escalated from annoying to outrageous to pure comedy with a mind-numbing speed. It’s the heart of the story about the demise of Health Care Reform, the slow death of so many unobjectionable nominees and much else.

In this case, we’re not dealing with a stand on partisanship or ideology or simple political shiv play which I guess can each be respected in their own place. This is more like just a stick up. Gimme my money and I’ll give you your Senate back! Worse than a squeegee man and not much better than a bank robber, Shelby is shutting down the president’s ability to appoint anyone to anything until he gets his way. In a sense Shelby’s gambit is little different from what countless other senators of both parties have done in the past, using the senate rules to get the White House’s attention to pry some money free from the federal government. But the scale is unheard and the moment is different. The only mystery about this one is which is more outrageous — Shelby’s hold or the fact that the rest of the senators of both parties allow it.

Perhaps, like so many other times, this will be today’s outrage that is the new normal by tomorrow. But this are volatile times. And I wonder if this isn’t the live wire in the gasoline.

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