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Letter From The Editor: Let’s be done with the U.S. Senate

Opinion

Okay, would any us know or care if the United States Senate ceased to exist? Nebraska, with its unicameral, is a well-run state. And the U.S. Senate original purpose was to represent the states in our federal union.

Next to our entry into World War I, changing to direct election of the U.S. Senators appears to be among the most prominent mistakes of early progressives. We cannot undo those, but we can decide if the U.S. Senate contributes anything today.

I’ve been thinking about this because we continue without the appointment of a USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety.

Most of us have this silly notion that we voted for somebody last November, somebody won, and on Jan. 20, 2017, a new government took power. But, that’s not the way it came down nor have past elections in the U.S. resulted in an immediate and across the board transfer of power.

The reason: the U.S. Senate. It’s slow down in approving the Presidential appointments required actually to run the government is unprecedented for the Trump administration. However, the game isn’t new. It’s just worse now.

I’ve read that in parliamentary democracies, the necessary appointments to fill the ministries can occur overnight if required for a change in government.

But in America, we require way too many Presidential appointments also to require U.S. Senate confirmation. The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service keep track of how it’s all going.

Those organizations figure there are 606 significant appointments throughout the federal government. With Senate slow walking, the new administration has not even tried to fill almost half of these. It’s a little bit like meat-grinding because you can only push so much through at a time.

About half of the other nominations made and working their way slowly along. The half of the government still not controlled by Trump is being run by career civil servants.

We are ten months into the new government, and the present reality is not serving food safety very well. The President may be near appointing a new Under Secretary for Food Safety, but it has not happened yet.

Part of the reason is that USDA’s first round of assistant and undersecretary appointments are taking so damn long to get through that “hard-working” body known as the U.S. Senate.

Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture for the last 12 years, was late last week unanimously finally confirmed by the U.S. Senate as undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the USDA.

But another–Iowa’s Bill Northey–is being held up for USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation over a spat between Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Iowa’s two GOP senators over biofuels policies. And with the nomination for USDA’s chief scientist also still not confirmed, the wait continues.

And while rumored to be near, the White House still has not named a new USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, the top post of its kind in the federal government.

Time has come to at least put the U.S. Senate on a calendar. If it cannot conduct an up or down vote on Presidential appointments by a specific date, it should lose its power to consent. Yes, it might have to work a four day week, but the rest of us have been putting up with that humiliation for some time.

I know it was in its heyday the most significant deliberative body in the world and all of that. But not lately.

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