Today’s Must Read

February 29, 2008 8:59 a.m.

More than 10 months of the Bush Administration remain, and the government is already limping toward the finish line.

You know about the crippled Federal Election Commission, the government’s campaign finance watchdog that has been crippled for two months now. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) certainly doesn’t need reminding of the situation.

But that’s not all. As the Politico reports, negotiations between the Senate leadership and the White House are at such an impasse over nominees that the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Council of Economic Advisers, the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission are all crippled.

Update: A TPM Reader reminds us that the SEC is also crippled: it currently has three Republican commissioners and no Democrats.

Now, of course, the White House points the finger at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Reid points it right back.

But it’s funny how people get suspicious of a stridently pro-business administration when it lets half a dozen regulatory bodies go dark. From the Politico:

“It’s the worst last year of a two-term presidency since we created a two-term presidency,” said Paul Light, an expert on federal nominations at New York University. “It’s a real tribute to the problems of the Bush administration that [Bush’s] eighth year is even worse than Clinton’s.”…

Light said that Bush’s ambivalence toward government regulation plays a role in the stalemate. “If the Consumer Product Safety Commission is not able to promulgate rules, is that a bad thing for an anti-regulatory administration? Probably not,” he said. “If you’re in an anti-regulatory mood, having a regulatory commission unable to regulate is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it’s going to regulate against industry.”

So who’s to blame? In a lengthy letter to the White House yesterday, Reid laid out his rebuffed offers for compromises on nominees, offers to confirm as many as 80 Republican nominations in exchange for confirmation of eight Democratic slots on various federal boards and agencies.

But the fight over the FEC can serve as a fitting test case. Democrats object to the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky to be a commissioner, because of his vote suppression bona fides and role in politicizing the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Spakovsky, who originally got on the FEC via a Bush recess appointment (which has expired), is one of four pending nominees — two Dems, two GOPers.

Democrats, particularly Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) vowed to block any vote on the commissioners as a block, i.e. a vote that would consider the commissioners all together. Democrats finally offered in December to hold a simple majority vote on Spakovsky separately. If he got 51 votes, he would go through and the fight would be over. Republicans refused, still insisting that it was all or nothing.

And that’s where things stand today. The White House so far refuses to nominate anyone else — at the same time complaining that its nominees are entitled to an “up-or-down vote,” which is precisely what the Democrats have offered here.

Meanwhile, if no compromise is reached, we can look forward to a very, very interesting election.

Update: Another TPM Reader writes in to add:

The impasse is also impacting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is down to only three Commissioners. If the impasse isn’t resolved soon, the NRC will be down to only two Commissioners in July. At that point, there won’t be a quorum of Commissioners and the Chairman will have to devolve power to the Executive Director of Operations (the head of the NRC Staff).

This could not come at a worse time. The NRC has received the 6 applications, the first in 30 years, to construct new nuclear power plants and, as a result, will be busier than it has been in decades. The Yucca Mountain application is also expected later this year. This is a problem for both parties: for pro-nuclear Bush, the renaissanace of nuclear power might be his only positive legacy, and, for Democrats, nuclear power is just about the only real solution to carbon emissions at this point.

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