WASHINGTON – A dispute over a local flood-control project appears to be the only issue standing in the way of a Senate confirmation vote on Gina McCarthy, the White House nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) remains dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s approach to the long-delayed Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project near Bird’s Point on the Mississippi River and has placed a hold on a floor vote. Officials maintain the clash should be resolved relatively soon and the McCarthy vote likely will occur next week.
The Blunt hold comes on the heels of steps taken by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who threatened to filibuster the McCarthy confirmation vote unless the EPA agreed to several requests regarding agency transparency.
Vitter announced Tuesday that he was satisfied with the agency’s efforts to address his concerns and said he would not block confirmation from moving ahead.
“I’ve had very productive conversations with EPA over the last several weeks and believe the agency has taken significant steps forward on our five transparency requests,” Vitter said. “These are huge, significant steps forward to bringing transparency to the agency and I see no further reason to block Gina McCarthy’s nomination and I’ll support moving to an up-or-down vote on her nomination.”
The McCarthy nomination is one of a handful of confirmation votes backed up on the Senate schedule because of Republican concerns. Obama’s nomination of Thomas E. Perez to serve as Labor secretary remains stalled, along with Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board. A handful of White House appointments to the National Labor Relations Board also remain mired.
Several of those nominations are contentious and won’t be easily resolved. Continuing delays have led Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, to reconsider changing the upper chamber’s rules to make it easier to work around minority party objections and bring nominations to a vote.
Currently, nominees to key posts are subject to filibuster, meaning they require 60 votes for approval. Majority Democrats now control 54 seats including two independents, meaning they can’t muster sufficient support to slide a nominee through.
Reid met with the Democratic caucus on Thursday with the nominations issue on the agenda.
Democrats at the outset of the 113th Congress internally debated whether to impose what has come to be known as the “nuclear option,” a change in Senate rules that would prohibit filibusters on executive nominations. Reid demurred and instead adopted modest changes that made it easier to open consideration. He vowed not to seek further rules changes if the GOP cooperated.
Since then the GOP has attempted to filibuster the nomination of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and slowed the progress of other potential administration officials.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, accused Democrats of a “partisan power grab,” noting that President Obama has secured the confirmation of almost every nominee he has submitted and the Republican lawmakers are simply “fulfilling their constitutional obligations to scrutinize each nominee.”
“I know Washington Democrats are getting a lot of pressure from Big Labor union bosses and other Far-Left elements of their base to do this,” McConnell said. “These folks have told Democrats it’s time to pay up and they don’t have much time for things like the democratic process or the rule of law.”
McConnell added that majorities of either party “will never get everything they want. That push and pull is the hallmark of a healthy democracy. And one day, when they are invariably returned to the minority, I suspect my Democrat friends will thank us for standing up for these democratic rights.”
Vitter said as a result of his McCarthy filibuster threat the EPA has agreed to enhance the agency’s response to Freedom of Information Act requests and issue new guidance on the use of personal email accounts – a ploy used by former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to avoid providing Congress with certain information it requested.
The agency also has agreed to a review of the way it determines the economic impact of its various regulatory proposals and provide more public information on closed-door settlement agreements with environmental groups, a process known as “sue and settle.”
But Vitter also made clear that he will remain a no vote on the motion to proceed to the nominations of Perez and Cordray.
Blunt, meanwhile, is standing firm in reaction to the Obama administration’s failure to meet a self-imposed March 15 deadline to arrive at the facts surrounding the Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all expressed different and opposing views of the venture.
“I am not asking the federal government to spend a dime or for the agencies to green light the project’s construction,” Blunt said. “All I’ve asked is for three government agencies to agree on a simple set of facts.”