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Norm Ornstein on the modern Senate:

The partisan nature of the confirmation process has even worse side effects when it comes to executive nominees — in this case going beyond defeating some to simply preventing them from getting into their offices for as long as possible. Way too many nominations are hung up by pernicious anonymous holds (the perniciousness is not just in the anonymity but in the holds themselves). Others get subjected to the threat of filibuster, raising the bar for many executive posts from 50 to 60.

Italics mine. I assume Ornstein’s explanation of Republican obstructionism is pretty obvious, but it sometimes gets lost. In fact, it got lost by Ornstein himself a few sentences earlier when he tried to figure out GOP motivations for delaying Elena Kagan’s nomination:

In some ways, I find it baffling. What if Republicans succeeded in this case in derailing Kagan? Would they end up with a second nominee who would be better from their perspective? No way. All they would gain is a symbolic defeat for the president.

Republicans have plenty of reasons for holding and filibustering everything. In some cases it prevents legislation from passing. Sometimes a little extra time really does allow them to dig something up on a nominee. Sometimes the political winds change. Etc.

But the main reason for such routine obstruction is simple: it eats up floor time. The Senate is a small body and has a limited amount of time to consider legislation and confirm nominees. Delaying Kagan for a week isn’t likely to stop her eventual confirmation, but it does gum up the works of the Judiciary Committee a bit. Ditto for things like filibusters, which eat up calendar time more than they actually stall legislation; or demands that committee meetings end after two hours of hearings; or withholding of unanimous consent for routine matters; or all the other little obstructions that have become commonplace. Republicans want to give Democrats as little time as possible to pass bills, and obstruction accomplishes this even if it doesn’t stop its putative target.

Will this change next January? It will if Harry Reid and Barack Obama try to round up 50 votes to change the Senate rules. I kinda doubt they’ll try, though.

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