By Ron Elving NPR
Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Shelby, the senior Republican senator from Alabama, and the rest of the Senate should be furious at him.
The reason is simple. Shelby has overstepped the usual bounds of caution and produced an act of senatorial arrogance so breathtaking that the country just might notice. And if the country actually knew that such shenanigans were possible, the country would be amazed and, one would hope, perturbed.
That is why 99 other senators should be short of breath, too. Because if Shelby gets noticed with this extreme version of business as usual, other senators conducting smaller-scale hostage operations on similarly selfish impulses may get noticed, too.
Shelby has placed a blanket “hold” on 70 nominations pending before the Senate, nominations for federal agency jobs and seats on the federal bench. Does he have a case against each and every one of the 70? No, he isn’t really talking about any of them.
His problem has to do with a couple of government contracts he wants to see benefit his home state of Alabama. To date, these Shelby “earmarks” have not come to pass, and the senator wants to change that. He is tired of being stiffed. He wants to force the Senate and the Obama administration to cede to his preferences for the granting of these contracts.
The tactic works by inducing pain. It slows or disrupts the work of literally dozens of federal agencies and courts. It interferes with the normal execution of the functions we all pay taxes to support. But this is not the goal; it is merely pressure, a means to an end.
Placing a hold on a bill or appointment has another purpose. It gives any senator leverage over the White House and the rest of the Senate.
In this case, it serves notice that until Richard Shelby has been satisfied, nothing on the Senate agenda will be more important than satisfying Richard Shelby.
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