Sec. Salazar, who represented Colorado in the Senate until President Obama tapped him for the Interior post in 2009, asked Wednesday that senators abandon legislation to boost his salary by $19,600 per year, bringing it in line with the pay of other members of the Cabinet. Because he was in the middle of a Senate term when he was appointed, federal law required that Salazar be limited to his Senate salary until the term expired last January; raising his salary back to the usual Cabinet level now requires Congressional approval. 

If Vitter believes the Interior Department is dragging its feet in processing drilling applications, he can make his displeasure felt through the appropriations process or in legislation that would require faster action. Of course, that would require him to persuade other senators, who after the Deepwater Horizon disaster might prefer that the department carefully and deliberately review drilling requests.

So Senator Vitter instead resorted to a cheap stunt. And his colleagues, incredibly, let him get away with it. The decent thing would have been to bring the bill to floor over Vitter’s objection and invite him to attempt a filibuster – a real filibuster – against it. He couldn’t talk alone but for so long, and even in today’s Senate he wouldn’t have attracted much support. 

Dale Eisman is senior writer/researcher at Common Cause.