I’m going to riff off of something that Dominic posted earlier today about yet another nominating setback for the Obama Administration, this time at the hands of arch-reactionary Jim Demint (SC—seriously, what is with that state and crazy politicians?). The episode is distressing in and of itself, but it also points to several larger trends in the Senate, highlighting the intransigent nature of today's opposition, and the anti-progressive nature of the institution as a whole.
This time the victim Erroll Southers, who Obama tapped to head up the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a body made startlingly relevant this Christmas by the noticeable uptick in crazy men with explosives down their pants on our nation’s airliners.
There are a couple points here, the first of which Southers himself made quite ably:
“It is clear that my nomination has become a lightning rod for those who have chosen to push a political agenda at the risk of the safety and security of the American people," Mr. Southers, a former F.B.I. agent, said in a statement. "This partisan climate is unacceptable…”
Republicans have been doing this with every single nominee they can come up with a remotely feasible excuse to block. We are a year into Obama’s term and dozens of nominees are still being held up in the Senate, the world’s most irksome legislative body. This seriously impedes the government ability to, well, govern. At TSA for example, changes that need to be made could probably be worked out without a departmental chief, but a guiding hand would be helpful in sorting out the nitty-gritty details and providing general leadership. With Southers out of the running, how long will it take Obama’s team to pick a replacement? And will the Republicans block the next one too? At this rate, TSA might not have a chief until the summer. Plenty of time for more crazed pants bombers to slip through the cracks. And why? Because the Republicans will basically do anything to muck up Obama’s ability to perform his job—how else are they supposed to return to power, being bereft of worthwhile ideas of their own.
But the demented DeMint has another reason for his obstinacy: Southers is labor-friendly.
The nomination was strongly opposed by Republicans. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina had placed a block on the nomination, saying he feared that Mr. Southers would attempt to grant collective bargaining rights to tens of thousands of the agency’s employees, including the 45,000 security screeners who have become a familiar presence at the nation’s airports.
The agency is part of the Department of Homeland Security. About 180,000 government employees lost their union rights in 2002 when President Bush signed the bill creating the department. Mr. Bush contended that after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the new department needed greater flexibility in handling its employees.
Labor friendly nominees have been having a particularly tough time maneuvering their way through the Senate. A number of the Department of Labor’s (DoL) top positions remain unfulfilled because conservative senators have blocked their nominations. Both the Solicitor to the DoL, the department’s third highest position, and the head of the Wages and Hours Division were held up by Mike Enzi, a Republican senator from Wyoming who darkly hinted of their possible connections with, *gasp*, ACORN. (The allegations were baseless.) Lorelei Boylan, the proposed head of Wages and Hours, actually dropped out of the running because the process was dragging on for too long. This is particularly unfortunate given how pervasive wage theft has become in recent years—one of the very issues the division is meant to tackle.
Isn’t it funny how the obstructionist, anti-majoritarian rules in the Senate (also, see: filibuster) are usually used to block progressive reform, often related to workers? Labor law reform has been attempted by every Democratic administration since Johnson, and each and every time it was blocked in the Senate by a filibuster (and this was before the maneuver became the every day occurrence we see now). Doubtlessly the same would happen to the Employee Free Choice Act if it ever passed the House, which it won’t. Now we are seeing any nominee with a hint of labor favorability questioned fiercely at the least, and impeded for months until they drop out at worst.
Well, chalk up another win for the Vast Hyper-Capitalist Conspiracy. Also known as America’s entire political economy.