Republicans plan January takedowns of Obama’s ‘czars’

John Rossomando Contributor
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Republicans will have President Barack Obama’s czars and his use of regulatory powers to circumvent congressional inaction on issues such as cap and trade in GOP crosshairs if the party takes control in January.

Since taking office, Obama has named more than 30 czars (though the exact number is hard to pin down) without Senate confirmation and congressional oversight, and together they hold power over everything from the environment and bank bailouts to the auto industry. The president’s practice of naming czars has garnered criticism from members of his own party, such as the late West Virginia Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd, who called it unconstitutional.

“When the Republicans are in charge, you will see the oversight subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee active on a whole host of fronts,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, who likely would chair the subcommittee if the Republicans take control of Congress. “How are these [czars] funded? So whether it be the authorizing committees and appropriations committees in terms of deleting the funds for those, I think you could go after it in one of two different ways.

“It is time to hold them accountable for what they are trying to promulgate with rules and regulations.”

The relevant congressional oversight committees have not exercised close oversight over the czars and other administration regulatory efforts during the last two years, but Upton plans to change that in January by regularly subpoenaing administration officials.

“We need to go line by line, page by page through the line items they happen to fund,” Upton said. “For a lot of these programs, I’m not sure they were authorized [by Congress], so how is it we are spending money for them?

“We are going to be focusing like a laser beam on overreaching by the regulators.”

The presidents’ czars need to justify why they were appointed and why they continue to have jobs that frequently overlap work done by previously existing government officials, Upton said.

“I think if Republicans take over the House, we have a duty to oversee all of the federal spending in each of our committees’ jurisdictions,” he said. “We have a $1.5 trillion deficit this year and last year, and one of our policy goals will be that we have a lower deficit and less spending a year from now.”

Upton also plans to put the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) effort to circumvent congressional inaction on cap and trade by regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the microscope if Republicans win in November.

The rule, published last spring, will regulate new power plants, oil refineries and factories that contribute more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride annually and existing ones that increase emissions by 75,000 tons annually. Smaller emitters will be exempted from the rule.

The EPA estimates that 900 additional permits would come under its purview and 550 new permits would be issued for the first time covering greenhouse-gas emissions. These permits would have to show they use the “best available control technologies” to minimize emissions.

Democrats likely will be too chastened by a likely bloodbath at the polls on Election Day to bring cap and trade up for a vote in the Senate during the upcoming lame duck session, Upton said.

Nontheless, this EPA rule, which amounts to a regulatory implementation of a form of cap and trade will take effect on Jan. 2   —  just days before the start of the 112th Congress.

Upton promises to also examine EPA regulations that make it difficult to build nuclear power plants and define coal ash as a hazardous waste.

“They feel they are able to move forward without any real legislative authority to do so,” Upton said. “I would like to see our Investigations Oversight Subcommittee expose all of these different regulations  … and have lengthy hearings exposing these things one at a time, and if we show they are not acting in the best interests of the country, we should be taking up legislation to block them.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner has endorsed this approach, Upton told TheDC.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, who would chair the House Government Reform committee if Republicans gain the majority, has promised a similar strategy.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist believes Republicans need to have a governing strategy in place should they find themselves with the majority in January, and putting Obama administration officials in the hot seat would be a good place to start.

“You can’t force the president to sign a bill extending the tax cuts because he could veto it, but if you don’t vote for a spending thing it doesn’t happen,” Norquist said.

Democrats have routinely used congressional oversight to keep Republican presidents in check in the past, and Norquist believes Upton and Issa should follow through with their threats to do the same to Obama.

“From Issa and Upton’s schemes for unending hearings to McConnell and Boehner’s posturing on shutting down the government, Republicans continue to make it clear that if put in power they plan to make the government work for their political interests rather than making government work for the interests of middle class families,” DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan said in an e-mailed statement.