White House reaches agreement to free up nominations

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had held up 172 Bush nominees in an effort to get his top science adviser a seat on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The White House has struck a deal to free up dozens of federal nominations and allow incoming Senate Minority Leader Reid's nominee to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move forward.

The deal, reached Saturday, will pave the way for Reid's top science adviser, Greg Jaczko, to take a two-year recess term on the NRC in January. The dispute over Jaczko's nomination had threatened to hold up 172 of President Bush's nominees, as Reid had placed holds on nominees until Jaczko's nomination was vetted. Supporters of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site protested Jaczko's appointment because he, like Reid, opposes the nuclear dump in Nevada.

Sixteen senators, 15 Republicans and Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., had signed a letter Saturday to Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., saying they would prevent the Senate from reaching a unanimous consent agreement on Jaczko and Republican NRC nominee Albert Konetzni.

"We cannot agree to allow Mr. Jaczko or Mr. Konetzni, the Republican nominee to the Commission, to be confirmed without so much as a hearing and the opportunity for senators to ask him questions on the record," the letter stated.

Jaczko would fill one of two vacant spots on the five-member commission. Saturday's deal also paves the way for Konetzni to fill the other vacant slot. Commissions normally are appointed by the president for five-year terms, but under Saturday's deal Jaczko cannot be renominated after his two-year recess term and must recuse himself from matters involving Yucca Mountain for the first year.

Reid said, "I am extremely pleased that we were able to reach a deal that places a strong, independent voice on the NRC, while ensuring that nearly 200 other federal posts will be promptly filled."

Meanwhile, in other key nominations as the Senate wrapped up this past week, Deborah Majoras won confirmation to serve as Federal Trade Commission chairwoman until 2008, after Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., dropped his hold. In August, Bush had given Majoras a recess appointment -- good through the end of next year -- to get around Wyden's move.

Wyden had cited concern about the effect of oil mergers approved by the FTC over the past decade in blocking the nomination. In a statement dropping his objection, Wyden said Majoras had assured him she would "get to the bottom of why consumers in my part of the country are paying such high gasoline prices."

Also confirmed Saturday was Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who will now remain a Democratic member of that panel until the middle of 2008. Adelstein, formerly an aide to departing Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., first was appointed in 2002 to fill the unexpired term of then-FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani. If Bush had not reappointed him, Adelstein would have had to leave the FCC when Congress adjourned for the year.