03/06/2014 04:12 EST | Updated 05/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Name the next U.S. ambassador to Canada, business group tells Senate

WASHINGTON - A prominent business group says it's time the U.S. Senate appointed the next ambassador to Canada, calling the delay in his confirmation a counter-productive and unnecessary result of partisan games.

The Canadian American Business Council said nominee Bruce Heyman is qualified for the job and shouldn't be forced to wait any longer.

It sent a letter Thursday to the leaders of both parties in the Senate, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, asking them to approve an appointment that has already received the backing of the chamber's foreign-relations committee.

"Talented Americans, who have been asked by our government to serve in public life, should not have to put their own lives on hold indefinitely while the Senate is mired in partisan gamesmanship," said Maryscott Greenwood, one of two people to co-sign the letter.

"Due process is one thing. Indefinite limbo is another. The Canada-U.S. relationship is too important, too complicated and too relevant to our economy and our security to be left much longer without a chief of mission."

The U.S. has gone eight months without an ambassador to Ottawa.

President Barack Obama has named Heyman, a Chicago investment banker, to replace David Jacobson, a Chicago-born lawyer. Heyman had a smooth confirmation hearing before the foreign-relations committee last December, and was recommended by that body soon thereafter, but nothing has happened since.

Dozens of diplomatic nominations are being held up in the Senate over what Democrats view as partisan payback from Republicans amid a dispute over the appointments process.

The business council's members include some of the best-known companies in North America, including Coca-Cola, Ford, GE, Shell, and BlackBerry. It also includes several past and present diplomats on its advisory board — including current Canadian ambassador to Washington Gary Doer.

The letter's other co-signatory is Lockheed Martin executive Bill Dalson, the chair of the business council.

"Given the bipartisan support for Mr. Heyman's nomination, the full Senate should act quickly on his nomination," the letter said. "A vacancy in this key position undermines U.S. economic, diplomatic, and security objectives."

It's by no means the longest gap between ambassadors to Canada. The delay in the 1990s between James Blanchard and Gordon Giffin lasted a year and a half.

In this case, it's occurring in an environment where Senate Republicans are angry at the Democrats for changing the rules to prevent filibusters and make it easier to appoint President Barack Obama's picks for cabinet and the judiciary.

The Republicans have also questioned the competency of some of Obama's diplomatic picks, suggesting that their main qualification was having raised money for the Democratic party.

Some of those nominees did not help their case at their nomination hearing, making gaffes that went viral online.

Like Jacobson, Heyman is a well-connected Democratic fundraiser — but his hearing went quickly and smoothly, showing no sign that his appointment might eventually become ensnared in political drama.

The delay comes as Canada and the U.S. are believed to be working toward carbon-emissions rules for the oil-and-gas sector, with the Keystone XL pipeline debate happening in the backdrop.