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How to block a presidency

White House photo

The New York Times editorial board tackles one of my favorite subjects today, reflecting on Senate filibuster abuses, but while the piece gets everything right, it probably doesn't go quite far enough.

Earlier this month, during one of his new across-the-aisle good-will tours, President Obama pleaded with Senate Republicans to ease up on their record number of filibusters of his nominees. He might as well have been talking to one of the statues in the Capitol. Republicans have made it clear that erecting hurdles for Mr. Obama is, if anything, their overriding legislative goal.

There is no historical precedent for the number of cabinet-level nominees that Republicans have blocked or delayed in the Obama administration.

From there, the Times' editorial board runs through a list that will probably be familiar to Maddow Blog readers: filibusters of cabinet nominees for the first time in American history, holds on key nominees for petty reasons, using the confirmation process as part larger legislative extortion strategies, blocking judicial nominations at farcical levels, etc.

All of this is entirely accurate, and to my mind, incredibly important. But there's a larger point that's often overlooked: Obama's Republican opponents are using obstructionist tactics to block key parts of the Obama presidency itself.

Senate Republicans, for example, blocked Caitlin Halligan's D.C. Circuit nomination, which was an outrageous move on its own. But as Dave Weigel noted the other day, there's an ancillary effect that's easy to miss -- the D.C. Circuit hears cases related to federal regulations, and Haley Edwards explained very well that its conservative judges have already begun chipping away at the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory-reform law.

The National Labor Relations Board is part of the executive branch, but it can't function because a minority of the Senate won't let it, and some have suggested shutting it down altogether since the GOP will never budge or change its mind. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is also part of the executive branch, and if judging by budget size, it happens to be the federal government's largest agency. But it doesn't have -- and probably won't get -- a confirmed director because the Senate minority doesn't want it to.

It's no way to run a government.