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Under Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s direction, the Senate in 2001 became the “Island of Dr. No.” Mr. Daschle has commandeered the entire legislative branch of government to thwart President Bush’s agenda in what is obviously an early start to the 2004 presidential campaign.
Mr. Daschle’s is a multi-front war. He has kept the Senate from doing the nation’s business on both legislation and nominations, defying both tradition and often a majority of the Senate. Instead, he is catering to the far-left constituencies whose support he needs to get his party’s presidential nomination.
The House of Representatives passed an energy bill in August. More than three months later, knowing it would pass the Senate, Mr. Daschle ordered the Senate Energy Committee to stop considering the bill. Though a Senate majority favors seeking oil in a tiny portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the enviro-radicals do not. Bowing to their demands, Mr. Daschle killed the bill. Today, more than two months later, the Senate has yet to pass an energy bill.
The economy slipped into recession in March, and the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent war on terrorism evaporated the budget surplus. While the House passed two stimulus bills to help the economy, and a clear Senate majority favors a bill that President Bush will sign, Mr. Daschle has refused to allow the Senate to vote on it. The Senate adjourned last week without passing a stimulus bill at all.
Mr. Daschle is also blocking Mr. Bush’s nominations to both the executive and judicial branches. He has, for example, refused to allow the Senate to vote on the nomination of Eugene Scalia to be Solicitor of Labor. The Senate Labor Committee approved the nomination of Mr. Scalia, one of the country’s most respected labor lawyers. Presidents traditionally enjoy great deference on nominations to executive branch posts. More important to Mr. Daschle, however, is that Mr. Scalia’s father is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – who was in the majority last year in the Bush vs. Gore decision bringing the endless presidential election recounts to a close.
Along with his “Team No” tag partner Patrick Leahy, Mr. Daschle is also blocking Mr. Bush’s judicial nominations. The Senate confirmed just 43 percent of Mr. Bush’s nominees this year, compared to an average of 72 percent for the last three presidents in their first year. This fact alone, however, does not tell the full obstruction story.
Mr. Bush started nominating months earlier than his predecessors, sending 44 nominations to the Senate by the time Bill Clinton had sent one. In fact, Mr. Bush made a record 65 judicial nominations in his first year, nearly 70 percent more than the average of his three predecessors. Democrats blame Sept. 11, for everything they want to avoid responsibility for, yet they had 52 nominees ready for consideration by then. Only three of the 11 nominees Mr. Bush first announced on May 9 even received a hearing this year.
As a result of this obstruction, the Senate has not even kept pace with judicial attrition. Vacancies rose nearly 15 percent this year, from 82 when Mr. Bush took the oath of office to 94 when the Senate adjourned last week. No less than 37 nominees sat unconfirmed, compared with 20 for Mr. Clinton, eight for the first President Bush, and just two for President Reagan.
There’s an even better way of measuring Mr. Daschle’s performance. The Confirmation Obstruction Index divides the average number of judicial vacancies by the total number of confirmations. Should Mr. Daschle, who controls confirmations, keep vacancies high by keeping confirmations low, he would receive a higher obstruction score. Though Mr. Daschle claims he’s ahead of the confirmation pace compared to GOP-controlled Senates, his COI score for 2001 was nearly 25 percent higher than the worst score under the GOP.
Data from the Congressional Research Service allow a different twist on the COI by dividing the number of judicial vacancies at the close of a Congress by the percentage of nominees confirmed. This also shows that Mr. Daschle’s performance this year is the worst confirmation obstruction – by more than 45 percent – in the last dozen years. No matter how you slice it, Mr. Daschle is truly “Dr. No.”
He’s also something of a Jekyll and Hyde in his quest for the White House. On March 7, 2000, for example, Mr. Daschle decried the “dire shortage” of judges as a “judicial emergency.” He said the Senate must “respond to that emergency, and confirm the many, many judges whose nominations are still languishing either in committee or on the floor” of the Senate. There were just 75 vacancies back then, 25 percent fewer than today.
Let there be no doubt about what’s happening in Washington and why. Democrats will never accept that Mr. Bush was elected, and are already working to undermine and – they hope – to end his presidency. We are all suffering the consequences.