Shelby hearings a good sign

Published 11:05 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When asked last month when he would break the logjam of banking nominees awaiting hearings before the Senate Banking Committee, its chairman was unusually candid.

“My primary is Tuesday!” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa. “We can talk about this later!”

While Shelby’s power in Washington, D.C., had much to do with his overwhelming victory in the March 1 primary, he had used that power to obstruct efficient government as chairman of the banking committee. The committee had the dubious distinction of being the only Senate committee that had not acted on a single nominee in this Congress.

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Shelby’s refusal to even hold hearings on 16 nominees critical to the imposition of economic sanctions and to the work of the Federal Reserve and the Export-Import Bank may have been politically expedient, but it was harmful to the nation.

In endorsing Shelby in the Republican primary, The Decatur Daily expressed hope the 81-year-old senator would embrace the freedom of what almost certainly will be his final term in office by ending his pandering to a base that still views President Barack Obama as an Africa-born Muslim, and instead applying his skills to the betterment of the state and nation.

Shelby showed signs he is doing exactly that Tuesday when he began to ease the backlog of nominees stalled before the Senate Banking Committee panel, scheduling confirmation hearings for two Securities and Exchange Commission nominees.

Shelby is, and always has been, a conservative. While he was attacked in the primaries for being a Democrat when he arrived in the Senate in 1987, the party label meant something different back then. He also has been in Washington long enough that he understands compromise is necessary if conservatives are to realize their goal of efficient government. Obstructing government does not make it cheaper, it just results in taxpayers getting less for their money.

So we applaud Shelby for a step in the right direction. By ending a nominee logjam, he is showing signs he is willing to once again go about the business of governing.

The fact Shelby felt he could not act responsibly until after winning the primary, however, is a reminder of how dysfunctional the United States has become.

Shelby is an astute politician. He knows his constituents, and he was convinced that even holding confirmation hearings for Obama nominees would damage his support in Alabama. That’s a horrible state of affairs.

The nation’s founders were immersed in the conflicts that necessarily come with self-governance. They also had the wisdom to know the nation’s best path forward was through the compromise inherent in effective politics. They attempted to create a system where compromise was necessary, but it has broken down.

Shelby and Obama embrace different ideologies. Neither is entirely right or wrong. Through compromise, they can arrive at solutions that fail the test of ideological purity, but pass the more important test of pragmatism. The nation needs solutions that work, and those solutions must satisfy diverse ideologies and financial interests.

The nation has reason to hope Shelby and his many conservative colleagues will begin to stray from the simplistic expectations of their most extreme constituents. It is time for our leaders to show their primary loyalties lie not with party or ideology, but with the nation.

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