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Hoping He Fails?

Republican “holds” in the Senate, Bloomberg reports, are preventing two key economists from joining the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

March 2 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama’s economic advisers are increasingly concerned about the U.S. Senate’s delay in confirming the nominations of Austan Goolsbee and Cecilia Rouse to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Without Senate confirmation, the two economists are barred from advising the president as the administration tackles the worst financial crisis in 70 years and tries to advance the spending plan Obama submitted to Congress last week.

Goolsbee, who has a reputation for competence and centrism, and Rouse, who specializes in education policy, are hardly the most controversial figures. Unless one of them has tax or nanny problems, they are likely to be approved by unanimous consent. If there were ever a time when our country needed economists like a fire needs firefighters, this is it.

Understaffing, indeed, has been part of the problem over at Treasury, and the source of some not-undeserved conservative critiques of Tim Geithner’s underwhelming performance.

And yet, faced with a parallel situation over at the CEA (which, to be clear, is a separate office from Treasury), Republicans appear to be engaged in an active effort to make the Administration’s life more difficult, apparently in a tit-for-tat over Democratic holds during the Bush administration.

This is fairly inside baseball stuff, and as such is not likely to generate a substantial backlash against McConnell & Co … but to the extent it does get any attention, I can’t see how it does anything other than to make them look like a bunch of obstructionist hacks. So why are they doing it?

The real reason is probably simply that there’s a leadership vacuum in the Republican party. If someone wants to do something stupid and counterproductive — and all it takes is one Senator to put a hold on a bill — there is really nobody to keep him in line (except perhaps McConnell, who seems disinclined to use his authority).

But if someone wanted to make the case that the Republicans were actively trying to promote the Administration’s failure, they’d be hard pressed to find a better example.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.