Obstruction and Extremism in Congress

Republicans in both Houses of Congress are becoming more and more flagrant in their strategy of holding the governing process hostage for far-right demands not shared by most voters. And the pity is that the strategy is mostly working.

The more that the Obama Administration tries to meet the Republicans half way, the more extreme and implacable their demands become.

In the first ring of the circus, we have the confirmation derby. In the past few days, the Republicans have stonewalled confirmation of three key appointees: Thomas Perez, President Obama's nominee to be Labor Secretary; Gina McCarthy, the president's designee to lead the EPA; and Penny Pritzker to head the Commerce Department. Republicans are threatening a filibuster if Majority Leader Harry Reid moves these nominations to the Senate floor.

At her confirmation hearing, Gina McCarthy was subjected to nearly 1,100 written questions, an unprecedented hazing. Republican senators then boycotted the live hearing itself.

This latest strategy of blockage comes on top of unprecedented stalling on judicial nominations, notwithstanding the administration's practice of checking with Republicans to see which proposed judges might win their approval -- a courtesy that has added to the delay, and one that Republicans have taken as another sign of weakness. The Crucial DC Circuit Court of Appeals has remained in conservative hands, more than four years after Obama's inauguration, because Republicans refuse to confirm an appointee

Nominees more to the GOP's ideological liking are rewarded with quick confirmation. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a friend of Wall Street and of fiscal austerity, sailed through 71-26, with almost half the Republican Senate caucus in support.

Meanwhile, in the next ring of the circus, House Speaker John Boehner is looking forward to the next debt ceiling showdown to see what else he can hold for ransom. 

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