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Senate Confirmation Process: Legislation Would Help Clear Up Backlog Of Stalled Nominations

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WASHINGTON — Many would-be federal office holders would be freed from nomination limbo with legislation to exempt some 200 presidential appointees from going through the Senate confirmation process.

The legislation on the Senate floor Wednesday would help clear up a backlog of stalled nominations that can result in posts going vacant for months. The Senate currently must vote on at least 1,200 appointees.

Those no longer needing the advice and consent of the Senate are mainly second-tier cabinet-level positions such as assistant secretaries for public affairs and legislation, chief financial officers, director of the Mint and governor of the African Development Bank.

The bill is the outcome of a compromise reached between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell last January on ways to reduce the often partisan impediments that had brought the Senate to a near-standstill. Democrats agreed to give Republicans more chances to offer amendments in exchange for a GOP promise to filibuster less. Those filibusters on occasion extend to nominees.

The legislation, worked out by the top Democrats and Republicans on the Rules Committee and the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, would also set up a working group to review the vetting process – which can take months and require massive amounts of paperwork and expensive legal advice_ that can discourage people from entering public service.

A separate resolution being considered at the same time streamlines the confirmation process for 250 part-time positions such as members of various commissions and advisory boards.

"The Senate was designed to be a deliberative body, but the American people are harmed when we are unable to get qualified candidates confirmed in a timely fashion," Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said after his committee approved that resolution.

The bill, which will require a House vote, and the resolution, which does not, are thought to enjoy wide bipartisan support, although several senators have voiced opposition. Those include conservative Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., who say it would be a mistake for Congress to abrogate its oversight authority.

"Holding czars and bureaucrats accountable to the citizens they serve is the government's duty," Paul said. "To eschew this process in the name of `efficiency' is a lie to the taxpayers who fund their paychecks."

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