The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Why filibuster when a hold works just as well?

Not every Congressional circus is as headline-grabbing as the three-ring Schiavo extravaganza. And the institution known as the Senate hold usually operates under cover of darkness.

Filibusters have all that Jimmy Stewart nonsense to supe up the publicity; few know - fewer care - much about the hold.

It comes as some surprise to learn that
Democratic senators have in place or are threatening to place "holds" on Bush's nominees to head three key agencies - the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Like the filibuster, the hold has no status under the Constitution; unlike the filibuster, the hold is unregulated by the Senate Rules.

There is no requirement to register holds, still less publicise them; senators thus evade accountability for using the device.

A nice little racket.

These holds work like ripper bills: the senator usually has no objection to the nominee: he merely wishes to extort some pork, or advance some ego-massaging project. And the hold allows him to do so whilst deflecting the attentions of an importunate press [1].

Which brings me back to the question: why don't Dem senators just slap holds on all the nominees they don't like? Why didn't they put holds on Rice and Gonzales, for instance? Why don't they on Negroponte and Bolton? And on judicial nominees past, present and future?

If the Senate hold is an unwritten rule, then perhaps there are unwritten sub-rules governing how holds may be issued: on no one too important, for instance.

Who knows? And is the Fourth Estate likely to be putting us wise any time soon? Don't hold your breath!

I find the contempt for the citizen showed by the regime of Senate holds altogether more pungent than anything coming off the putative political corpse of Tom DeLay right now.

  1. 'Holds' were not an invention of the present GOP Senate leadership. The paper (PDF) The Senate Hold: Preliminary Evidence from The Baker Years gives useful background, as does a statement (PDF) to the Rules Committee by Sarah Binder of Brookings.

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