President Barack Obama signed a bill Friday evening that would exempt some senior-level presidential appointees from Senate confirmation.
Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and cosponsored by Republicans and Democrats, the bill, now law, weakens the power of the legislature and strengthens the executive branch, critics have warned. The bill skated through the Senate three months after being introduced in 2011 and was passed by the Republican-controlled House 261-116 in July.
The law now allows Obama and future presidents to name appointees to senior positions in every branch of the administration, from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Homeland Security.
Conservative critics worried that the bill restricts congressional authority to monitor executive branch decisions, but the measure received bipartisan support because of the gridlocked, slow-moving Senate, which is known for being the more deliberative of the two bodies of Congress.
Whereas the House is a more populist body, the Senate grants more power to its fewer members. It only takes one senator to filibuster an appointee, forcing the majority party to find a “super majority” of 60 votes to end the filibuster and move ahead with an up-or-down vote.
The law now sidesteps that process, with Congress willingly giving up oversight of these appointees.
“The United States Constitution does not bestow kingly powers on the President to appoint the senior officers of the government with no process,” wrote Thomas McClusky, senior vice president for the Family Research Council’s legislative arm, in a memo to lawmakers last week.
The positions exempted from Senate confirmation include high-level posts like the treasurer of the United States and chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and mid-level posts like the assistant secretary for management at the Department of Education.
The bill also seeks to streamline the paperwork involved in a presidential nomination.
This story has been updated to correct the margin by which the bill passed the House of Representatives, 261-116.