Here’s an interesting nugget in Congress’s response to the financial crisis that hasn’t received as much attention as it deserves.
Earlier this month, the Bush administration nominated Neil Barofsky, a federal prosecutor, to be the Treasury Department’s special inspector general on the bailout program. That’s a crucial post, given the astronomical sums at issue, the broad authority that Treasury has been given to distribute them, the concerns that have been raised about possible conflicts of interest, and the general urgency of our efforts to prevent an economic collapse.
So you’d think Congress would be doing everything it could to get Barofsky confirmed right away. You’d be wrong.
Last week, Sen. Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the banking committee, issued a little-noticed statement saying that although the nomination “was cleared by members of the Senate Banking Committee, the leadership of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and all Democratic Senators,” it was “blocked on the floor by at least one Republican member.” (itals ours.)
Senate rules allow any senator to anonymously block a vote on confirmation to any federal post, for any reason.
The rationale for the move remains unclear. But a Washington Post story from a few days before Dodd’s statement offers two suggestions. It notes that Barofsky supported Barack Obama, and describes an unresolved “battle between the Finance and Banking committees over which has jurisdiction over the confirmation process.”
Blocking an urgent nomination because the nominee, like 52 percent of voters, supported Obama seems petty even by contemporary GOP standards. But a congressional turf war over jurisdiction seems only slightly less so. So either of these two explanations would be a pretty damning indictment of Congress’s response to the crisis.
We’ll keep you posted as we dig into this…
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