Senator's Projects Stall Obama Appointees

Sen. Richard Shelby
It is business as it's done only in Washington. In this case, Senate Democrats try to approve President Obama's appointees.

"These people are dealing with the safety and security of our country," said Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid.

But a single Republican senator stops the whole works. The objection is from Sen. Richard Shelby, who wasn't even there, but is using a Senate tactic to stall confirmation of scores of Obama appointees. It's all to try to get his way on major spending issues in his home state.

This tactic is called a "hold," reports CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. It means that instead of the usual 51 votes to be confirmed, nominees have to get 60 votes. Getting to 60 isn't always easy with Democrats in control of just 57 seats. There are 41 Republicans and two Independents.

Holds aren't unusual. But Shelby has flexed his Senatorial muscle to issue a rarer "blanket hold" of all nominees on the calendar. That's more than 80, including high ranking military, intelligence and national security officials, like Clifford Stanley to oversee Defense Personnel and Readiness.

"This man would be the third-highest ranking person at the Pentagon," Reid said.

Sen. Shelby wouldn't agree to an interview but his office says the holds are "due to unaddressed national security concerns."

Shelby Holds up Senate for Home State Pork

Specifically, he wants changes in the process to contract for Air Force re-fuelers - the contract is worth up to $40 billion.

What he really wants is to get that contract to Northrup Grumman, which would build the re-fuelers in Shelby's home state of Alabama. Northrup has contributed more than $100,000 to Shelby over the years.

Shelby also wants the administration to release $45 million from an earmark he got in 2008 for a "Terrorist Explosives Devices Analytical Center" at an Army base in - you guessed it - Shelby's home state.

Friday, the White House went after Shelby directly.

"This represents the silliest of the silly season in Washington," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "That somebody would stand in the way of 89 nominees on behalf of two earmarks for their home state."

If Shelby gets what he wants or changes his mind, the Senate can go back to the normal confirmation process. That is, until another Senator finds reason to grind things to a halt.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.