In a gesture to end its characteristic gridlock, the Senate began the 112th with a vote to end “secret holds” — a procedural move that allows lawmakers to anonymously block legislation or nominees. GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY), and John Ensign (NV) were the only four to vote against the measure. “No longer will senators be able to holdup legislation anonymously,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) at the time. “From now on, they’re going to have to own it.”
But anonymous obstruction dies hard in the Senate. After keeping up appearances for five months, a GOP senator placed a secret hold last Friday on the nomination of Heather Higginbottom as the deputy budget director at the Office of Management and Budget. Democratic aides suggest that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) broke the pledge:
Heather Higginbottom’s nomination to be President Obama’s deputy budget director is in deep trouble after the GOP placed a hold on it, Democrat aides said Friday.[…]
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, views Higginbottom as entirely unqualified for the position. Democrat aides point to Sessions as a source of the hold, but his office would not confirm that Friday.
“A lot of Republicans have a problem with this one, it’s not going anywhere,” one aide said.
Despite voting to end secret holds, it appears Sessions may be having a tough time breaking the habit. According to NPR’s On the Media and the Government Accountability Project, last month, Sessions or Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) put a secret hold on the Whistle Blower Enhancement Act — a bill “designed to protect government workers from being punished for exposing waste, fraud or corruption within government” — as a favor to House Republicans.
The hold on Higginbottom has forced OMB Director Jack Lew “to operate without a full team in place during the extremely difficult negotiations over spending.” Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) pushed for a vote on this nomination “given the tremendous fiscal and economic challenges facing the nation.”
While Sessions will not attest to the hold, he made his distaste for the nominee perfectly clear. Calling her experience level “stunningly lacking,” Sessions said she was unqualified because she’s “never studied business. Never run a business. Never been a mayor of a town.” “We need somebody who will go after waste, fraud and abuse,” he said.