Legislating by pique is a dangerous trend

Congress: Senators put `holds' on president's nominations when their sensibilities are offended.

July 06, 1999

AN Iowa senator delays approval of the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations because the senator is angry about an unrelated diplomatic matter.

An Oklahoma senator holds up approval of all presidential nominations because he doesn't like the way an openly gay man was appointed U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

A Utah senator puts a freeze on all pending judgeships because the president won't name his Utah ally to the bench.

This isn't democracy in action, it's government by senatorial pique.

In each case, a conservative Republican used an unwritten Senate tradition to bargain with the Democratic White House. But the practice of putting "holds" on presidential nominations was never intended to be wielded as a stick so frequently, or so intemperately. Some of today's senators are abusing that privilege.

It's not the first time, though. Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia in 1985 flagrantly abused this senatorial courtesy, putting holds on 76 of Ronald Reagan's nominations and delaying 5,000 military promotions to get his way on a procedural matter.

Such behavior dishonors the Senate. It gives the public the impression that the highest priority for some senators is throwing their weight around.

Coming to grips with critical matters such as saving Social Security and Medicare doesn't appear to be nearly as important to these senators as extorting appointments from the White House or forcing the president to bend to the will of his political foes.

The public's business takes a back seat when senators let their egos run wild.

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