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Moving forward on an important nomination

August 13, 2017, at The Washington Times

By John R. Lott, Jr.


Even if the Senate votes for confirmation on the very day that it returns from recess, a record 112 days will have passed since President Trump nominated Kevin Hassett to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. Since 1980, the average time to confirm other Council chairmen is 25 days. For incoming administrations, the average confirmation period is 13 days. The longest was 25 days.

A world-recognized expert on taxation, Mr. Hassett has been stuck on the sidelines despite the administration’s big goals this year on tax reform. Mr. Hassett is the one person who can help make the different parts of a tax bill fit together and can explain it to the media.

White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn has reportedly told associates that time is running out for tax reform. He worries that if tax reform doesn’t get done by the end of the year, it likely won’t happen at all. Missing key players such as Mr. Hassett doesn’t help. And Democrats are threatening to delay Mr. Hassett’s vote much longer.

The delay reflects only Democrats’ unwillingness to confirm any Trump nominees. Mr. Hassett is not a controversial pick.

The Senate Banking Committee easily advanced Mr. Hassett’s nomination in June, with only Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, opposing. Other liberal Democrats such as Sherrod Brown, Ohio, Jack Reed Rhode Island, Robert Menedez, New Jersey and Brian Schatz, Hawaii, all voted in Mr. Hassett’s favor. According to organizations such as the AFL-CIO, the League of Conservation Voters and Americans for Democratic Action, these senators have perfect or near-perfect liberal voting records.

Forty-four prominent economists, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike, who know Mr. Hassett, signed a letter supporting his confirmation. It read, “While the signers of this letter hold a range of views on President Trump’s policies, we all believe that the formulation of economic policy would be advanced by the analysis and advice that Dr. Hassett would bring to the table.”

They also noted Mr. Hassett’s “record of serious scholarship.” The signers included all of the Council chairmen to serve under President Obama (Jason Furman, Alan Krueger, Christina Romer, Austan Goolsbee) as well as some of President Bill Clinton’s (Laura Tyson, Martin Baily).

Not a single nomination for this position has ever taken anywhere near as long as Mr. Hassett‘s. Some of the responsibility lies with the administration, but Democrats have done everything in their power to delay confirmation of Mr. Trump’s nominees. Demanding cloture filings for every single nominee, no matter how uncontroversial, means two days of debate before cloture can even be voted on. Then, after cloture, there is an additional 30 hours of debate.

So far, only 44 percent of Mr. Trump’s nominees have been confirmed. At this point in their administrations, Mr. Obama had 57 percent of his nominees confirmed, George W. Bush 71 percent, and Bill Clinton 75 percent. And the low confirmation rate isn’t because the system is clogged up with an excessive number of nominees. Mr. Trump has made just 279 nominations, whereas Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush had both made 414.

Until he is confirmed, Mr. Hassett can’t start filling positions under him. Indeed, the Council is still staffed by Obama appointees who are hostile to Mr. Trump’s policies. Mr. Trump hasn’t had the benefit of putting his own economists to work on healthcare, education, the environment and infrastructure. Others in the White House have had to do the research and analysis that would normally be done by the Council.

Mr. Trump runs a smaller, more efficient ship. First lady Melania Trump has a staff of just 4 people. Michelle Obama had a staff of 22. Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton had staffs of 18 and 19 people, respectively. The whole Trump administration is making do with less, but the Democrats still won’t let the president fill basic positions.

With partial Obamacare repeal failing, getting tax reform accomplished becomes even more crucial to the administration.

Many liberal economists endorsed Mr. Hassett because he has a long history of reaching out to work with them. They know him as an intelligent person who cares about getting policies right, not about partisan grudges. Democratic senators, on the other hand, are engaging in rank partisanship by delaying so many qualified and uncontroversial nominees. If Democrats want anyone to believe that they care about bipartisanship, it’s time to at least confirm Kevin Hassett.

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