Fed Chair Janet Yellen's vice chairman, Stanley Fischer, still hasn't been confirmed by the Senate. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Fed Chair Janet Yellen's vice chairman, Stanley Fischer, still hasn't been confirmed by the Senate. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

There is no excuse for the fiasco on the Federal Reserve Board, which will have only three of its seven seats filled unless the Senate acts soon.

Who is responsible?

Senate Republicans have been obstructing all nominations. They can no longer dictate outcomes because Democrats put an end to minority-party rule last fall by eliminating the need for a supermajority for nominations. But Republicans continue to use almost every means at their disposal to slow the business of the Senate, including futile filibusters against nominations they don’t even oppose.

So instead of nominees with unanimous approval being confirmed rapidly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must schedule extended floor time for every judge and almost every executive branch selection. It is the minority party's responsibility to oppose nominations its members reject; but foot-dragging just to gum up the works is irresponsible, and its only effect is an increase in governing dysfunction.

Senate Democrats bear some blame. President Barack Obama nominated three solid picks in January; there’s no reason for them to still be waiting to be confirmed in May, or for it to take until the end of April for them to clear committee, especially as none of them is controversial. Jerome Powell is being renominated for a seat on the Fed Board for which he already was confirmed once; why is this taking four months and counting?

And Obama also deserves a share of the blame. He was slow to choose one of the three nominees before the Senate, and he still hasn’t forwarded any names for the other two openings. He’s done better with judicial nominations recently, but his executive branch nominations still take too long, and he hasn’t pushed the Senate to work faster.

The president should realize that the Senate is never going to care as much about confirming executive branch nominations. If he moves slowly in selecting people and then rarely pushes for prompt action, that’s going to send a clear signal that he doesn’t care, either.

It’s not just this president or this Senate. The process is broken, and it's not just a matter of partisan polarization. There’s too much detailed vetting on these choices on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, and that creates long delays in the process. Once again, that’s on the president. He could take some initiative to try to reform the process, and he hasn’t.

Democrats in the White House in particular should care about this because they claim they want the departments and agencies of the executive branch to be carrying out their responsibilities capably. When Obama ignores his responsibilities, he’s letting down both the institution of the presidency and his party.

It’s really a disgrace to U.S. government that this keeps happening.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.