TPM has a large, bold headline about Richard Shelby’s “blanket hold”:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has put an extraordinary “blanket hold” on at least 70 nominations President Obama has sent to the Senate, according to multiple reports this evening. The hold means no nominations can move forward unless Senate Democrats can secure a 60-member cloture vote to break it, or until Shelby lifts the hold [...]

According to the report, Shelby is holding Obama’s nominees hostage until a pair of lucrative programs that would send billions in taxpayer dollars to his home state get back on track. The two programs Shelby wants to move forward or else:

• A $40 billion contract to build air-to-air refueling tankers. From CongressDaily: “Northrop/EADS team would build the planes in Mobile, Ala., but has threatened to pull out of the competition unless the Air Force makes changes to a draft request for proposals.” Federal Times offers more details on the tanker deal, and also confirms its connection to the hold.

• An improvised explosive device testing lab for the FBI. From CongressDaily: “[Shelby] is frustrated that the Obama administration won’t build” the center, which Shelby earmarked $45 million for in 2008. The center is due to be based “at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.”

Now, is this embarrassingly brazen? Yes. Should it be the impetus for a whole lot of recess appointments or a conversation about Republican obstructionism? Absolutely. Does it combine the filibuster and earmarks in the most headline-grabbing way? Yep. But let’s just be clear about this. What is Shelby doing?

A hold is an informal process where a Senator announces his intention to force a cloture vote on a nominee.

Um, what nominee hasn’t been subject to a cloture vote in the 111th Congress?

This has, depressingly, become a standard process in the Senate. Republicans place a hold on every nominee, forcing the filing of cloture, followed by 30 hours of debate, followed by a vote, followed by 30 hours of post-cloture debate. Frequently the post-cloture time is waived because Senators what to get out of town for the weekend. This week the Senate basically moved 2 nominees, and nothing else. Moving 70 nominees would take 8 months, under this standard. But it’s not REALLY an obstacle. If it was, Ben Bernanke wouldn’t be celebrating his second term at the Federal Reserve; there were multiple holds out on him.

Yes, it’s absurd. But Shelby is doing nothing that conflicts with standard Republican practice in this Congress. They’ve put holds on everybody. And they’ll continue to do so. Unless the hold process is abolished, and nominees for executive appointments, in other words allowing the President to pick his own staff, are ensured an up or down vote within a set number of days, once the nomination is brought to the floor. That would be what a functioning government would do.