AEI scholar confronts presidential rhetoric with fact

Remember when President Obama justified U.S. Senate Democrats’ controversial step of ending filibusters for presidential appointments by saying “over the past five years, we’ve seen an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that’s prevented too much of the people’s business from getting done. … Today’s pattern of obstruction just isn’t normal”? Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute heard that claim and decided Obama’s words merited more scrutiny. He shares the results with National Review readers.

If we have learned anything about this president, it is that his factual assertions need to be scrutinized. So what do the facts say? Have Senate Republicans’ actions really been unprecedented, as the president and Democrats claim? …

… If President Obama’s story were correct, we would expect the data to show that filibustering tea partiers had pushed delays through the roof relative to earlier periods. But the data do not bear this out. The experience of judicial nominees under Obama has not been appreciably different from the trend under previous administrations. Since the presidency of George H. W. Bush, the lag between nomination and confirmation has steadily increased under all administrations, especially for circuit-court nominees. And although the delay for district-court nominees was longer during Obama’s first term than during George W. Bush’s administration, the average lag for the circuit courts has actually fallen.

[Economist John] Lott adds that the lags to a vote on confirmation are just part of the story. Indeed, fully 85 percent of President Obama’s circuit-court nominees have now been confirmed, a much higher percentage than that enjoyed by President Bush, who saw only 72 percent confirmed. The data, then, suggest that Republicans have been on balance less of a political obstacle to President Obama’s nominees than Democrats were to President George W. Bush’s.

This is the second time this fall that the president has lobbed the transparently incorrect assertion that Republicans are acting in an unprecedented fashion and received roaring confirmation from most in the media. Recall that the same was said of the GOP’s desire to attach strings to the increase in the debt limit, despite the fact that 27 out of 53 debt-limit increases had included strings, and 60 percent of those were attached by Democratic Congresses.

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