Republicans, it seems, really didn’t want the Senate to break for Memorial Day recess. Really, really, really didn’t want them to. Twenty House Republicans sent their leaders a letter asking them not to approve any adjournment measure sent over by the Senate – the Senate’s adjournment is usually OKed by the House as a matter of course. Republican Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Louisiana’s David Vitter were threatening a kind of filibuster in the Senate in order to keep them in session. And Senator Jeff Sessions accused his Democratic counterparts of laziness. So, what had all these folks up in arms about a week’s vacation? Hint: not just the week’s vacation itself.
The 20 House members, DeMint and Vitter were up in arms over the prospect of recess appointments. By law, whenever the Senate is out of session for more than four days, the President has the right to make appointments without the approval of the Senate. These appointments are temporary – they only last until the next session of Congress, which in this case begins in January, 2013. Often, highly controversial nominees are appointed in this fashion – such as George W. Bush’s choice of John Bolton to be United Nations ambassador or Obama’s selection of Don Berwick as Medicare and Medicaid chief. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kept the Senate in “pro forma” session for the last several months of Bush’s presidency to prevent him from making any such appointments.
These days, the GOP is fretting over two potential recess appointments by President Obama: Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board and Elizabeth Warren to head the new consumer protection bureau created by the financial regulation legislation passed last year.
Obama recess appointed Becker, a former union executive, to the board last year and could renew the appointment if the Senate gives him the chance. Republicans have been up in arms over the board’s attempts to force Boeing to shutter a newly opened non-unionized facility in South Carolina and move production back to Washington where there work was unionized. Much of the GOP ire has been focused on Becker.
Obama has yet to nominate Warren to the head the bureau, but she has spent the last year setting it up from within the Treasury Department. Warren’s hostile reception on Capitol Hill this week should give you an idea of how much Republicans hate the idea of her heading up the agency, which is set to open its doors in July.
But, really, the GOP’s concerns about recess appointments are unwarranted, at least according to their own leader. From Mitch McConnell’s Friday press conference:
Q. There won’t be any recess appointments next week because the Senate will be in a pro-forma session. And did Senator Reid agree to that? Was there any kind of agreement between you?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, those discussions go on between myself and the administration. I was confident there would not be any recess appointments. But all of us did feel that leaving without having voted on a budget was a mistake, and that was a letter that all 47 of us signed to Senator Reid. And that was the reason that Senator Sessions objected to having the adjournment vote. But I was confident that there would not have been recess appointments this week, based on conversations I had had with the administration.
Sessions seems to be the Republican with the best reason for forcing a pro forma session – where at least two Senators and their staffs must be present to convene the Senate ever day – during the Memorial Day recess. Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has been beating a drum for weeks that Democrats in the Senate have not passed a budget for more than 750 days. Senate Democrats are waiting for Vice President Joe Biden to wrap up deficit reduction negotiations before introducing their 2012 budget as many pieces of those talks will likely be included in the budgetary process. But Republicans like to highlight what they call the Democrats’ laggardly attitude towards cutting spending, so Sessions has been pounding this theme relentlessly.