WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday announced he would make 15 recess appointments held up by Republicans, including two top Treasury Department positions and two on the National Labor Relations Board that have been vacant for more than a year.
The move intensifies an already bitter partisan atmosphere in Washington and Republicans swiftly condemned the action for sidestepping Congress, which goes into recess for its spring vacation on Monday.
Recess appointments, which have been used by both parties, evade potentially difficult Senate confirmations required for senior federal posts by making the appointments on an interim basis when lawmakers are out of town.
Obama’s Democrats lost their 60-seat super majority in the Senate in January, denying them the votes needed to overcome procedural delays by Republicans.
Obama accused Republicans of playing politics by obstructing his nominations, and calculated the appointments had already been held up for an average of 214 days.
“I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government,” said Obama, who days ago signed historic healthcare reform despite bitter Republican opposition.
The two top Treasury posts are for Jeffrey Goldstein, an executive at a New York private equity firm and a former managing director at the World Bank, for under secretary for domestic finance; and Michael Mundaca, a senior policy advisor at Treasury, for assistant secretary for tax policy.
“At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months,” Obama said in a statement.
The appointments on the NLRB, a five-seat body that has been functioning with only two members for the last two years, are labor lawyers Craig Becker and Mark Pearce.
The NLRB decides cases involving workers’ rights to form and join unions and the nominations are part of a bigger fight between Democrats and their labor allies and the Republicans and their business allies.
Republican Senator John McCain, who in February helped block Becker’s confirmation, said he was disappointed by Obama’s decision. Becker has served as associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO as well as for the Service Employees International Union.
“The U.S. Senate rejected this highly controversial and partisan nominee, and once again the administration showed that it had little respect for the time honored constitutional roles and procedures of Congress,” McCain said in a statement.
The White House said Obama has a total of 217 nominees pending before the Senate, including 34 nominees pending for more than six months.
Comparing Obama’s track record with his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, the White House said Bush had made 15 recess appointments at this stage in his presidency, but argued he faced far less obstruction from Congress.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen