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Uncle Sam, Shorthanded

Ryan Grim reports in the Politico that a number of federal agencies are severely undermanned because the White House and Senate Democrats can't agree on mutually acceptable nominees to fill the positions:

At the height of concern over product safety and lead-tainted toys, the Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn’t have enough members to meet. The nation is facing the prospect of a presidential contest with no referee, because the Federal Election Commission is too short-handed to call a quorum. With the economy in peril, the Council of Economic Advisers is plodding along with a lone member. The National Labor Relations Board, the body that adjudicates disputes between workers and bosses, has only two of its five commissioners still on the job. ...

“It’s the worst last year of a two-term presidency since we created a two-term presidency,” said Paul Light, an expert on federal nominations at New York University. “It’s a real tribute to the problems of the Bush administration that [Bush’s] eighth year is even worse than Clinton’s.”

Of course, since in many cases the administration doesn't believe in the underlying mission of the agencies in question, it's presumably not all that disappointed by this outcome, and so has no incentive to put forward consensus nominees. This is an underappreciated dynamic: During periods of divided government, a lot of situations end up coming down to variations on the game of chicken between the president and Congress, and the side at a disadvantage will be the one with more to lose if neither yields. In general, this is going to be the party that expects government to actually do something--hence Patrick Leahy's complaint that "They [the administration] could care less. They dislike government. They dislike the way government works." True, but this is a structural disadvantage for liberals about which there's not really anything to be done.

Update: Paul Kiel over at TPM Muckraker has more on just how bad the situation's gotten.

--Josh Patashnik