Congress votes to streamline Senate confirmation process

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The House Tuesday passed a bipartisan measure to streamline the executive branch appointments process by removing a substantial number of positions from the list of those that require confirmation by the Senate.

The bill, S. 679, eliminates the need for the Senate to vote on about 170 executive branch nominations and 3,000 military officer corps appointments. It  is the result of a 2011 agreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The Senate approved the measure last year. It now goes to President Obama for his signature. 

With the bill's passage, "future administrations will be able to get their teams in place more quickly, and the Senate will be able focus its time and energy on the most important executive branch appointments," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "In no way does this bill erode the Senate’s role of 'advice and consent.' Rather, it strengthens the Senate’s power by freeing us up to concentrate on nominees who will actually shape national policy.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Rules Committee, said, “too often the confirmation process has degenerated into a time-consuming, unfair ordeal that creates an 'innocent until nominated' syndrome. This law will make it easier for the next president to recruit distinguished, qualified Americans. It will avoid the trivialization of the nominations process and focus the Senate’s full attention on the 1,200 nominees still requiring confirmation. "

Along with Lieberman and Alexander, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, had sponsored the measure. 

Some House Republicans argued the bill hands too much power to presidential administrations. “Our founding fathers established the Senate confirmation process to check the president and keep him from abusing his power," said Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who voted against the measure. "This administration has only proven the need for a check on the powers of the president, and I believe this legislation is a step in the wrong direction. If the Senate thinks the confirmation process is too time consuming, Congress needs to examine the Senate’s procedures, not enable the Senate to do less work or give the executive branch more power.”

Positions removed from the list requiring confirmation included public affairs officials and deputies reporting to officials who will still need to be confirmed. 

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