Here’s an interesting development in the world of secret holds: the Nobel Prize committee just awarded Peter Diamond the Nobel Prize in Economics. Earlier this year Diamond was appointed to the Federal Reserve Board by President Obama. His nomination has since been returned to the President due to a secret hold placed by unnamed Republicans.
This functionally means that Diamond’s nomination was rejected due to the intransigence of unknown elected representatives. He was approved by the overseeing committee, but his nomination was refused time to come to the floor as Republicans offered objections based on the stated objection of someone within their caucus.
(Tyler Cowen has a good run-down on Diamond’s work here.)
Casting aside the merits of the nomination, it does not seem fair to either the nominee, the President or the people who elect senators to have decisions made in this opaque and clouded manner. The nominee deserves a fair and open hearing. The President, historically, has largely been given leeway in his appointments. And the people of this nation deserve to have an open and honest debate over legislation and nominations that does not involve secret senators blocking action for unknown reasons. That simply breeds mistrust and confusion.
The Sunlight Foundation has repeatedly called on the elimination of the secret hold from the Senate rules. The bipartisan Grassley-Wyden legislation is the best vehicle to end this abusive practice and is supported by nearly 70 senators. Yet the Senate refuses a vote on the legislation and continues to allow bills and nominations to be the scuttled based on the secret objections of unnamed senators. Is this any way to govern?
David Waldman has offered another solution to the whole secret hold mess. Declare that there are no secret holds by proclaiming the objecting senator, whether they say they are objecting on behalf of someone else or not, as the holding senator. Thus, whomever comes to the floor to object is the senator who is responsible for said objection and the blocking of the legislative process. This is also a novel approach that deserves to be looked at.