Opinion: GOP blockade hurts us all

This week’s upcoming vote to confirm Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary feels joyless and anti-climatic.

After a poor performance during his Senate confirmation hearings, he walks into the job looking like a dullard.

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And where is the victory for Republicans? They succeeded only in making themselves look petty by delaying the vote. They vainly used the time they created to seek dirt with which to smear their fellow Republican, merely because he is President Obama’s nominee.

Never before has the minority party in the Senate filibustered a president’s nominee for a Cabinet post, let alone the secretary of Defense. Now that the precedent is set, the next step for the GOP is filibustering an Obama Supreme Court nominee. Nothing short of filibuster reform can prevent this.

To that end, the Hagel fiasco served one good purpose: It is a high-profile reminder of the ongoing, unprecedented Republican congressional strategy of blocking any nominee from the Obama White House in order to cripple this president.

In order to deny the twice-elected president a fully functional government, the current Republican Senate minority has used about a quarter of all filibusters in Senate history to block Obama’s choices.

This political strategy is powerful because it is largely ignored by the press, or dismissed as more of the same old, dysfunctional political game that is played in D.C. 

But this is newsworthy.

This widespread use of filibusters undermines the authority of the president to have his nominees run federal agencies created by congressional vote to serve public need. The GOP is throwing a wrench in the legitimate, democratic functioning of government because it doesn’t like the president’s policies — even though the president ran on those policies and the American people liked him enough to elect him twice.

And the story goes on:

At the moment, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is threatening to filibuster John Brennan, the president’s pick for CIA director. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is threatening to filibuster Jack Lew’s nomination as Treasury secretary.

Those are just the high-profile examples.

There are currently four important federal government agencies bereft of leadership — and unable to properly function  because the Senate simply refuses to confirm the president’s nominee. These agencies include the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; the Federal Housing Finance Agency; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

In addition, there are 35 judicial nominees waiting for confirmation. Thirty-three of them have been blocked in the Senate.

The Hagel case remains the most dramatic example of this abuse of the confirmation process. His confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee devolved into a pathetic spectacle as the Republicans on the panel asked the same questions over and over again, trying to paint him as hostile to Israel and soft on Iran.

Despite the delay, Hagel is likely to be confirmed this week. But due to GOP filibusters, CMS has been without a permanent administrator for more than six years. 

Earlier this month, the president renominated the acting administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, for Senate confirmation. 

Tavenner has been the acting director since the resignation of her predecessor, Donald Berwick, in December 2011.

Senate Republicans blocked Berwick’s confirmation as permanent agency head, prompting him to quit.

“An agency of this importance and complexity needs stable leadership,” Berwick recently complained. “Senators, even those who disagree with the president, need to look in the mirror and see if they are acting responsibly. They have a responsibility to see that the government runs well, even if they disagree with the administration.”

Berwick is exactly right.

The absence of a permanent CMS administrator, confirmed by the Senate, will make the implementation of the Affordable Care Act even more difficult. In keeping Tavenner or anyone else out of that job, Republicans are trying to sabotage healthcare reform before it has a chance to work.

This problem also extends to enforcing gun laws.

Following the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Obama proposed having a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The ATF, an agency within the Department of Justice, has not had a full-time, Senate-confirmed director for the past six years.

Maybe the Hagel blockade will change the political dynamics surrounding filibuster reform before the GOP can filibuster Obama’s next Supreme Court appointment. It could happen.

If the dynamic does not change, then perhaps enough Senate Democrats will come together to elect a new Senate majority leader who is willing to end this obstructionist nonsense once and for all.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.