Senate squabbles hold up TVA appointments

PDF: TVA board agenda

The Tennessee Valley Authority board will meet Thursday in Jackson, Tenn., and it is likely to have only a minimum quorum of leftover directors appointed by President Bush.

The U.S. Senate has yet to confirm any of President Obama's four appointments to the federal agency, even though the White House nominees unanimously were endorsed by a Senate panel nearly four months ago.

The delay in confirming the new directors has come primarily from U.S. senators in the Tennessee Valley, although not because of any discontent with the people named to oversee TVA.

Last year, President Obama nominated three Democrats -- Georgia Tech professor Marilyn Brown, of Atlanta; Middle Tennessee State University professor Barbara Haskew, of Chattanooga; and Oak Ridge attorney Neil McBride -- and Republican businessman Bill Sansom, of Knoxville ,to serve on what is supposed to be a nine-member TVA board.

Senators from Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Iowa have held up confirmation votes in disputes over geographical representation on the board and unrelated appointments to other agencies and other spending programs.

"It's collateral damage," U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said last week.

The latest delay came on one of the final days before last week's Senate recess, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., objected to a vote to confirm 80 presidential nominations because it included union attorney Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board.

The Senate previously blocked Mr. Becker's appointment when he got only 52 votes -- eight short of the number needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

But the White House put Mr. Becker on the labor board through a recess appointment when the Senate was not in session, then included the union attorney among nominees scheduled for last month's confirmation vote.

"There is a fundamental lack of equity and fairness involved, and that has been a significant hindrance in coming to a consent agreement (on a full Senate vote on the confirmations)," Sen. McConnell said in a floor speech on May 27.

When Sen. McConnell moved to approve 60 other appointments, including the four TVA board members, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, objected and blamed the lack of other confirmations on Senate Republicans.

"I am sorry to say that a lot of these people will not get their nominations, but the Republicans do not care," Sen. Harkin said. "Do they care if we have members on the TVA board of directors? Obviously not."

The Senate will reconvene after this week and again could take up the nominations. Louise Gorenflo, a member of a task force advising TVA on its long-range power plans, said the agency needs the new board members to move forward.

"Not having these people in place to help address the challenges facing TVA borders on negligence by the Senate," she said.