White House czars, an object of conservative fury thanks to Glenn Beck monologues
and discredited Politico stories
, will be the subject of a Congressional hearing
tomorrow. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental
Affairs, chaired by Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, will hear testimony
on policy czars. So will it all come down to a partisan fight? Maybe not. Members of the committee and
Congressional analysts say there's more to the story than
conspiracy theories about closet communists. What's really at stake is the balance of
power between the White House and Congress over setting the direction of government policy.
- Czars Are New Branch of Government Roll Call's Don Wolfensberger identifies
"a third (non-judicial) branch" of government: "A burgeoning
policymaking division of the White House positioning
itself over the others as the supreme policy arm of government. Nothing
better illustrates this development than the proliferation of
policy czars in the White House under President Barack Obama."
Wolfensberger writes, "The bigger the White House policy apparatus
becomes, the more
Congress is suspicious of the policies being devised, offended they’ve
been left out of the loop and outraged about being denied information
essential to good oversight. The reason for this is that nonconfirmable
presidential advisers are protected by the doctrine of executive
privilege from having to disclose anything to Congress. Policy czars
are anathema to Congress."
- Congress 'Flexing' Oversight Powers National Journal's Alexis Simendinger describes
Congress as concerned that czars will reduce their power as the
policymaker. The hearings, Simineger says, are about pushing back.
"Senators -- and not just Republicans -- appear intent on flexing
their oversight authority to probe further. And even some of Obama's
strongest Democratic backers believe that respectful oversight can keep
a government that is dominated by one party looking over its shoulder
and out of a ditch. The temptation for the party in power is to greet
the probing as
partisan political posturing, aimed at tormenting the president and
scuttling his agenda. But as the Bush administration limped out of
Washington in 2008, plenty of Republicans were heard lamenting that the
once-GOP-controlled Congress should have done them a favor and
conducted more oversight, despite the forceful objections from the
White House and Vice President Cheney. In hindsight, they said, just
the prospect of regular congressional scrutiny of Bush's policies and
departments might have buoyed the GOP brand."
- Transparency and Oversight At Issue Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on tomorrow's Senate hearing, discussed the hearing with Politics Daily columnist Lynn Sweet. "I have been very clear that this is not a partisan issue, it is in
institutional issue. It has to do with respecting the elaborate system
of checks and balances established by the Constitution. Not every
position identified in the media reports as a czar is problematic, and
the administration knows I feel that way," Collins said. "I have been very careful from the beginning to identify 18 positions
that I believe are problematic and raise issues of oversight,
transparency and accountability. After all, this is the administration
that promised the most transparent and accountable administration in
history, so I don't understand why the administration is resisting
having these individuals testify before Congress."
- But Did Congress Make Czars Necessary? Cody M. Brown and Jeffrey D. Ratner argue
in the Christian Science Monitor that outdated legislation forces the
White House to employ czars. "Before acting, however, Congress should
consider a fundamental (and potentially uncomfortable) question: Is
Congress to blame for the proliferation of White House czars?" they
write. "To answer this, we should look back at 1932 when Congress
authorized the president to consolidate executive branch functions and
agencies in order to 'reduce expenditures and increase efficiency' and
to 'eliminate … duplication of effort.'" The legislation helped
streamline FDR's growing administration, but was later ruled
unconstitutional for its inclusion of a single-house veto. The authors
say new legislation is needed. "Passing a new reorganization act, in a
constitutional form, may not only reduce the presence of czars, but
could also improve the administrative management of the executive
branch while giving Congress a voice in the process."
- Lieberman Rebels Against His Savior Liberal blogger John Aravosis notes
that Obama protected Lieberman's committee chairmanship, which
Democrats wanted to strip in retaliation for Lieberman's support of
McCain during the 2008 presidential election. "If Lieberman's hearings
do anything short of completely exonerating
Obama, he should be kicked out of the caucus once and for all. Obama
owns Lieberman, he saved Lieberman's committee chairmanship. It's time
Lieberman got in line, or got out."
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