Sen. Richard Shelby Blocks 70 Nominees, Demands Billions in Earmarks :: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has been revealed to be placing a “blanket hold” on 70 of Pres. Obama’s nominees, while demanding an estimated $40 billion in earmarks for his state. The revelation, published yesterday in CongressDaily, is being called one of the most flagrant examples of political corruption in recent memory. According to CongressDaily’s reporting, “While holds are frequent, Senate aides said a blanket hold represents a far more aggressive use of the power than is normal.”

The fact that Shelby appears so flagrantly to be using this procedural stunt to demand billions of dollars in payments to political or industrial operations in his state has raised the accusation that he is in fact guilty of a kind of extortion. As Dylan Loewe wrote in Friday’s Huffington Post, “This is unconscionably outrageous. If it were occurring anywhere else but the Senate chamber it would be extortion. A felony. It is an egregious misuse of minority power, easily the most flagrant example in years.”

Loewe also argues that the revelation of Shelby’s shockingly unscrupulous activity —a number of the nominations are likely related to vital public services, including national security— is a cue to Democrats to finally stand up and cry foul, to put the Republican party absolutely on the spot, facing the dilemma: do we continue to obstruct and be known for undermining national security and the public good, with overtly corrupt intent, or do we begin to work with Obama and the Democrats?

But the real problem for Republicans now that this unprecedented obstruction has come to light is that some of them are demanding a moratorium on earmarks, in an attempt to accuse the Democratic Congress of overspending on pet projects for home districts, yet they are backing an effort to undermine federal agencies as part of an overt attempt to extort earmarks from the Congressional leadership and the administration.

The obvious question any observer without a vested interest in defending Shelby’s actions must ask is: how can one senator simply assign to himself power superior even to that of the president on the question of filling appointments? There is no such right in the United States Constitution, and surely any rule that would allow for a filibuster was not designed to allow one anonymous member of the Senate to block over 70 appointments to important posts in the executive branch of government.

John Marshal of the Talking Points Memo Editors Blog writes:

This is more like just a stick up. Gimme my money and I’ll give you your Senate back! Worse than a squeegee man and not much better than a bank robber, Shelby is shutting down the president’s ability to appoint anyone to anything until he gets his way.

The Shelby affair has yet more layers of stunning hubris: the $40 billion project he is demanding action for is actually related to a bidding process in which a joint venture between Northrop Grumman and EADS —the European parent of Airbus— is competing against Boeing for a contract to build a new aerial refueling tanker. The Northrop/EADS venture plans to build the tanker in Mobile, Alabama, if it wins, but is threatening to withdraw its bid altogether unless the Air Force makes the conditions of bidding more favorable to its needs.

Shelby is literally trying to undermine the federal government’s ability to do business effectively and have responsible, politically accountable leadership, in order to lobby on behalf of a foreign corporation, against an American corporation. In order to coerce payment of billions of dollars in earmarks to corporations that might do business in his home state, Sen. Shelby is blocking at least five appointments to the Department of Defense, in a time when the United States is involved in two wars, on the other side of the world.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) angrily denounced the blocking of these appointments on the floor of the United States Senate, explaining how the blanket hold can undermine readiness and interfere with a wide array of services related to providing adequate attention and care to the personnel who serve in the armed forces. Even the provision of fully adequate medical resources to the front could be slowed by vacancies at key Pentagon posts.

The hold can also undermine the ability of the Pentagon to have real oversight of technology acquisition, meaning the quality of new technologies adopted is not currently being overseen by a politically accountable official, nor is the issue of cost related to existing and new technologies.

In fact, the hold on the appointment for Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions could be directly linked to the job-description of that post and, by extension, to the billions of dollars Shelby hopes to win for his state, a conflict of interest that implies Sen. Shelby hopes to hide the potential for massive cost overruns that could be associated with the multi-billion-dollar contract he is trying to win, by way of these coercive tactics.

After dodging questions and refusing to give comment on the issue, Sen. Shelby’s office did confirm he is blocking nominations in direct connection with the two Defense-related programs he wants to come to his state. Sen. Shelby has reportedly made the wildly false claim that if a $45 million FBI outpost designed to study IEDs (improvised explosive devices) is not built in Alabama, it will “impede” the government’s ability to defend against terrorism.

The claim is false, because the Pentagon already conducts the world’s most advanced IED research through a number of explosive ordnance disposal programs, in which engineers and explosives experts stage real tests of real explosives in scenarios designed to mimic both the environment of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as urban combat and potential terrorist attack. Substantive details on the fate of the specific FBI-related earmark Shelby is demanding for his state have not been released in connection with this story.

Even as Sen. John McCain and other top Republicans push for a moratorium on all earmarks of any kind, Sen. Shelby’s action implies the Republican party is supportive of the blanket hold for dollars, or had hoped the nature of the blanket hold would not come to light. Though earmarks and negotiation around pet projects are considered routine business in the Senate, the scope of Sen. Shelby’s apparent abuse of the rules has some asking whether he might be vulnerable to corruption charges, or even impeachment for abuse of office.

While the Constitution lists “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” as impeachable offenses, the history of the impeachment process and legal scholarship tends toward the rule that Congress alone can determine what actions constitute impeachable offenses. While the general public tends to view actions like Shelby’s as a kind of solicitation of bribes, if not outright extortion, it is unlikely any member of Congress would be so ready to set that standard on earmarks.

Even the most outspoken opponents of earmarks, such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his onetime running mate, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, have consistently sought huge federal investments in their states. Except of course on specific issues where their desire to cry foul over government spending made it necessary to disavow any such ambitions. In fact, on a per-capita basis, Palin and the Alaskan Congressional delegation, tainted by actual corruption charges, were more aggressive in seeking earmark dollars than any other state.

The more likely route members of the Democratic majority in the Senate will take is to accuse Shelby of pandering to corporate interests, putting the security of the nation at risk, undermining the federal government’s ability to rein in cost and oversee spending, maybe even of a kind of non-criminal extortion; he will be pressured to take the fall as the worst offender in a minority of obstructionists and earmark addicts, and the Republican party will be pressured to distance itself from his actions.

The goal would be to lift the hold, confirm some or all of the blocked nominees, secure a serious political victory for Pres. Obama and the Democratic cause, and to show the majority as strong in fighting against corrupt practices, conflict of interest and legislative extortion. Sen. Shelby would be punished politically, as he tries to throw blame in all directions (which his office has already begun to do—attacking the military, the Congress, the president, and anyone other than himself), in a climate where no one wants to be seen as being on his side.

The Republican leadership may also fear the backlash from Sen. Shelby’s actions, because there is already widespread and angry bipartisan opposition to the now blanket use of the filibuster loophole to obstruct legislative business in the Senate. The filibuster is a storied and favorite tool of Senate minority parties, but supporters of both parties have been angered in a visceral way over the last two decades, as the filibuster has expanded wildly in use.

There is significant pressure on Democrats to use any number of procedural options to simply change the rules on filibusters, possibly requiring that any senator making the threat either follow through or face some loss of authority within the Senate, or reducing the number of issues where the filibuster is even applicable to a safely small number. As CongressDaily noted in its report yesterday, Vice Pres. Biden, a long-time senator himself (elected 7 times to the Senate) has been taking a serious look at filibuster reform:

“What I have been doing is spending a lot of time having my staff go back and scrub this, you know, the use of the filibuster and how it’s worked,” Biden said. “This is not a constitutional requirement.”

Biden defended the 60-vote requirement, calling it “a useful tool. It’s legitimate, but from my perspective having served here, having been elected seven times, I’ve never seen a time when it’s become sort of standard operating procedure. … Requiring a supermajority is just not a good way to do business.

That the procedural maneuvers being used by Republicans like Shelby to hijack the process and undermine the federal government are not actually Constitutionally sanctioned does leave obstructionists more vulnerable to the charge that they are abusing their offices in order to win money for special interests or simply to encroach upon the separation of powers. But even so, the fallout will likely remain political, unless some direct communication with an interested party, in which money itself is discussed, were to come to light.



on “Sen. Richard Shelby Blocks 70 Nominees, Demands Billions in Earmarks
6 Comments on “Sen. Richard Shelby Blocks 70 Nominees, Demands Billions in Earmarks
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  2. Will the American public ever learn. We have an extremely powerful tool we can use to stop blatant abuse of the use of OUR money. It’s called your vote. People of Alabama, please pay attention and vote this guy out of office next election. Show him just how powerful you are!

  3. ordinance vs ordnance

    one is a law, rule or regulation, the other is usually a military explosive device

    we could use one to curb Shelby, but not the other.

    we need to get rid of anonymous holds: make the holders justify their actions, or at least expose the fact that they are responsible.

    this is a great example of saying one thing, and doing another, and it lays out the essential paradox of election to national office: the people elect you to do something for them, state or district, specifically. But really, your responsibility is to the country as a whole. If you can do something for your electorate en passant, that’s great, but this is clearly beyond the pale.

    he must have an election coming up.

  4. There will be no fallout.

    Republicans are saints in the eyes of our MSM.

    As for obstuctionist, what else can you call the enormous rise in the use of filibuster by Republicans since they lost power?

    “We have crossed the mark of over 100 filibusters and acts of procedural obstruction in less than one year,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said on the floor on December 20, 2009. “Never since the founding of the Republic, not even in the bitter sentiments preceding Civil War, was such a thing ever seen in this body.

    I understand the frustrations of everyone who wanted Obama to fix the world in 365 days, but I do NOT understand how anyone could be so illogical to think that Obama is an evil person bent on the destruction of this country.

    There are people who vote for people that call themselves conservatives but really what you get is a bunch of theocrats who try to consolidate money and power to an elite group of ideological zealots who are willing to commit intense acts of hypocrisy simply to feel as if they have “won”, like it’s all some kind of game.

    These toe tapping tools will stop at nothing to force your children learn myth in science classrooms such as ID or that the Earth was made 6000 years ago. These fake so called Republicans will vow that gays should not be able to live as non-gays do in our country, while simultaneously being gay in the closet. These people like to hate things. Fighting is what feels normal. These people are angry and angry people are easily exploited.

    If you prefer a government that governs the least that’s exactly what you are going to get. I don’t believe there can be an intelligent debate with toe tapping Republican propagandist hacks. Hacks don’t want to talk, they just want to be mad about something and government is an easy target. During the Bush days, the hacks were mad at Saddam, for the wrong reasons but it didn’t stop them from exploiting the people into supporting a two trillion dollar tax payer funded unjust war did it? 4000 Americans and 50,000 (and counting) innocent Iraqi civilians died. Republican leaders said, “hey be mad at this”, now they are saying, “hey be mad at this”.

    The fatalistic tragedians of our nation fall in line. No one said Americans have any patience. We want to be right all the time. The only thing we are conservative with is the use of our intelligence and the application of ethics.

  5. This is NOT extortion. If Ben Nelson, Mary Landreau,Joe Leiberman,NY, MN and Conn congress people can, why not Shelby? I see no difference. Who approved all the Czars? Congress is suppossed to approve all. They did not. An Atty General that wants control and power over every terrorist we capture? Should he have given Miranda rights to every German Japanese soldier? A school safety czar that wants to teach preschool chldren about the gay life style? A regs czar that imposes his personal will? An appointed USAID administratior that critices the Pope? A Pay czar the limits salary of who he chooses? A president that allows his buddies to get 9 million in bonus? A preisdent that appoints someone who can’t do his own taxes over the IRS? Same man was head of Goldy Sacks that was a big cause of the recession. They keep telling us we e”on the edge” but they never said of what! What CAUSED the problem is the fed giovernent under Clinton passing the Comminuty Redevelopment Act that FORCED banks to make bad loans to section 8 housing people, who were already 6 months behind in apartment rent. They are now 6 months behind in mortgate payments (imagne that). Forced= threat by Gietner or however he spells it this week, what with all the ‘change’ Obama promised) who threatened to deny FDIC cioverage, and cacel licenses for bracnches across state lines.
    The fault lies in DC. The American peolle are fed up with it. Evidence: NJ VA Mass. Nov the Demwits will loose more seats. Is that why Obama wanted to pass the health care in Ju;y, before it was even written? Before we found out what they were up to? Global warming is a hoax. Cap and trade raises electric costs for every american even under 250,000. We do not need to cut off our electric supply until we have alternate sources in place that can provide an amount equal to the current coal fired plants. Sure they can buy carbon credits and plant a tree in Brazil or India. more jobs overeas. Why not a tree here? Smoke and mirrors. carbon credits. Al Gore should have to buy them for the electricity he uses in his big house. Nancy should have to for the miles she flew her family at taxpayer epense. Mad ? Me and 80% of Americans!

  6. Mr. Huck: Are you suggesting that wrongdoing is less wrong if more people do it? Are you suggesting that degree of obstruction is not relevant to the level of harm done? On the following points: “A school safety czar that wants to teach preschool chldren about the gay life style? A regs czar that imposes his personal will? An appointed USAID administratior that critices the Pope? A Pay czar the limits salary of who he chooses? A president that allows his buddies to get 9 million in bonus?” you are mischaracterizing or openly misstating the facts. There has never been a shred of evidence to support the “Global warming is a hoax” conspiracy theory, though evidence built on centuries’ worth of mainstream science illustrate clearly that climate destabilization is happening and is linked to our carbon emissions. You can make random statements in order to support ideologically prejudiced conspiracy theories, but that right does not give your statements weight.

    Please, for all commenters, try to avoid aggressive ad hominem attacks or overtly hostile rhetoric.

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