When the Senate gets back from its Thanksgiving recess in a couple of weeks, it's gonna be a whole new world. A simple majority -- just 51 votes -- will now suffice to get a presidential nominee to the floor for a vote by the full senate, and there are plenty of vacancies to be filled. The change has been called the "nuclear option."
We’re talking about the kind of job Mike Posner used to have. He was Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. It took him five months to get confirmed, and he says he wasn’t an outlier.
“Bureaus, senior positions in the State Department [were] not filled for months and months at a time,” he remembers. “And it really makes doing work a lot more difficult.”
Ken Salazar was President Obama’s first Secretary of the Interior, and he says the worst thing about this de facto hiring freeze has been that “you’re not able to bring the effective leadership to manage the government of the United States.”
Jobs requiring Senate confirmation have become less and less attractive, and nominees have had to wait in what Salazar calls “a very strange limbo.”
“I have seen both Democrats and Republicans who have just gotten tired of the wait, and have withdrawn their names,” he notes.
So, what happens now that the logjam is broken?
Austan Goolsbee, the chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, says the queue is full of mid-level appointees: “Deputy secretaries, under secretaries, assistant secretaries," he says, "who are the people that kind of have to make the trains run on time.”
Goolsbee says he expects things will move a lot less glacially now.
“I would presume they’re going to get all of those people through pretty quick.”
But the bottom line here is not that these nominees are going to get jobs, it is what they are going to do once they have them. They will make rules and regulations that will affect business and the whole economy.
Next year, for example, the Fed has three vacancies to fill, and at least one analyst is predicting that this rule change will make it much easier for the president to get his picks confirmed.
Next year, the White House says, Americans won't have to start signing up until Nov. 15. The administration says that will give insurers more time to prepare their rates. It also starts the enrollment period after the 2014 elections.
Annie Dookhan has admitted she falsified drug tests. Tens of thousands of criminal cases may have been compromised. A judge sentenced her to three to five years in prison Friday.
The week's tech coverage was dominated by Bitcoin, the cyber-currency that was the focus of a congressional hearing, and by video games, which were the subject NPR explored in its weekly tech theme. And a few other things caught our eye.
The Grammy-winning musician's new recording, "We Are America," protests the controversial detention center. But she tells NPR she doesn't like to call it a protest song. It's more of a "let's get together and do something pro-active, creative and productive" song.
Microsoft's Xbox One console comes out today. The Sony Playstation 4 was released last Friday. The new Xbox is an ambitious play for your portal to all home entertainment, but some reviewers are complaining the box is a little half-baked. For instance, it's not what's called "backwards compatible." Tech critic Molly Wood explains their gripes.