Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), champion of climate denial in the world’s most dysfunctional legislative body, has a lot of terrible ideas. But this one may be the worst ever: He wants to require Senate confirmation for all of EPA’s 10 regional administrators.
You have to know a bit about contemporary U.S. politics to understand just how bad of an idea this is. One of the remarkable features of the last few decades has been the conservative movement’s abandonment of norms of conduct that used to enable the U.S. government to work, at least fitfully. For instance, there was never any legal impediment to the minority filibustering every single solitary bill the majority put forward. It just wasn’t done. It was understood that filibusters were to be reserved for matters of serious import. But conservatives have now abandoned that norm and the filibuster has become routine, a radical change in governance that the political media has barely seen fit to comment on.
Similarly, putting “holds” on, or otherwise refusing to confirm, executive-branch nominees used to be an extraordinary thing. Now conservatives do it routinely, to almost every nominee, prompting Brookings scholar Thomas Mann to refer to current GOP practice as “a modern-day form of nullification.” He says, “there is nothing normal or routine about this,” but in that, he’s wrong: The GOP has made it routine. (See James Fallows for more.)
For instance, you may have seen the news that Arun Majumdar, the guy who’s been running the Energy Department’s ARPA-E advanced energy research shop, is stepping down. What you may not have noticed is that he was also the Obama administration’s nominee to be undersecretary of energy, to replace Cathy Zoi. But while he acted in that role, he was never confirmed, because Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — who just hates Big Government Spending, mind you — put a hold on his appointment to protest the Energy Department’s refusal to direct more pork to a local Kentucky uranium-enrichment company. Rand is so determined to get this spending that he has blocked five Energy Department appointments. It’s hypocritical, obviously, but not remarkable, not any more. The GOP has devoted itself to impeding the proper operation of government in every way possible ever since Obama took office.
And they want to bring more of the government’s operation under their power as well. As I wrote this year in Washington Monthly, one of the big recent GOP ideas is the REINS Act, which would require every “major rule” issued by an executive branch agency — between 50 and 100 a year — to be approved by both houses of Congress before it goes into law.
That law, and Inhofe’s proposal, are not, contra conservative rhetoric, about “accountability.” They are about the fact that Republicans want more ways to hobble the administration and prevent it from accomplishing anything. Just imagine if this Republican Party got the power to block the appointment of all 10 regional EPA administrators. It would cripple the agency.
And that’s just what Inhofe wants.