Conservatives: Bill would increase number of Obama’s czars

John Rossomando Contributor
Font Size:

Legislation co-sponsored by Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander has Tea Party and other conservative leaders crying foul because it backs away from their goal of bringing added congressional accountability to President Obama’s czars, now 37 in number.

The bill, S 670, enjoys bipartisan support from Democrats such as Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, fellow Republicans such as Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada reportedly has also signed onto supporting the legislation as has Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The senator initially had considered introducing legislation that would have made the president’s czars subject to Senate confirmation.

But according to Alexander’s office, he crafted a compromise with the Democrats instead that would remove numerous subcabinet officials from confirmation as a way of keeping them from ending the filibuster.

“This bipartisan effort will free up the Senate so it can focus on our country’s most urgent needs of reducing spending and debt, rather than on confirming hundreds of junior and part-time positions in any president’s administration, like the public-relations officer of a minor department,” Alexander said in a statement. “The Senate will still continue to confirm about a thousand presidential nominees – nearly four times as many appointees as President Kennedy had.”

The issue has proven to be one that certain conservative GOP senators’ aides have been reluctant to go on the record in support of or in opposition to, but have privately stated their cases to The Daily Caller.

Senate opponents contend the legislation would create nearly 200 new czars by removing officials such as the director of the U.S. Mint, which has authority over all U.S. coinage and the federal government’s over $100 billion in gold and silver assets from Senate confirmation. The U.S. Treasurer whose signature appears on every dollar bill would similarly be among those removed from needing a Senate hearing.

Officials such as the chief financial officers in the departments of agriculture, state and energy would similarly be removed from the confirmation process.

A senior conservative senator whose office wished to remain anonymous told TheDC the move would create a situation akin to what occurred in the Enron scandal. In that case, Arthur Andersen, which served as Enron’s independent auditor, had its objectivity called into question because it was too cozy with its client’s management.

“If those charged with providing oversight are accountable only to those they oversee, they serve no purpose,” an opposed Senate office wrote.

Conservative Senate supporters of the bill, however, contend the legislation is constitutional and would help streamline the process for the next time a Republican wins the White House because they believe it could make it easier to eliminate liberal holdovers from a previous Democratic administration.

Other conservative Senate offices tell TheDC they do not see a problem in taking the czar issue off the table because they believe Obama has the right to appoint those he sees fit to serve at his pleasure in a formal advisory capacity.

The bill is slated for committee markup next week and is widely expected to pass with significant bipartisan support.

Mark Meckler, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, called Alexander’s move unacceptable from a tea party perspective and said it would likely create more anger and outrage.

“The idea that they would create more positions that would not be subject to Senate confirmation is something I think that people would be pretty upset about,” Meckler said. The tea party movement across the country roundly supported the bipartisan House measure to eliminate many of President Obama’s appointed czars.

“The idea that [senators] would now attempt to expand the number of those czars, and to remove them from congressional accountability would no doubt be met with strong push back in the movement.”

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton denounced the compromise legislation as “an abdication of Senate responsibility.”  Fitton believes more people should be subject to Senate confirmation, not less, because the federal bureaucracy is “as big as it has ever been” and there should be more oversight.

Fitton contends that removing more presidential appointees from the confirmation process would be a step in the wrong direction.

“There are ways to streamline the process with ways that ensure accountability without just saying that those individuals don’t need to be confirmed,” Fitton said. “If the confirmation process is too slow, there may be ways to speed it up, but that doesn’t mean you stop confirming and pretend that you don’t have an obligation.

And Heritage Foundation Senate expert Brian Darling similarly expressed dismay with the move by Alexander and the rest of the Senate leadership to in effect increase the number of czars.

“It makes absolutely no sense, and it seems like a one-sided deal that will lead to a situation where we are going to have a lot of lower lever, highly politicized nominations that don’t have to be confirmed,” Darling said. “This really is an awful idea, and it may make sense if it was a trade to pull in the high-ranking czars in the Obama administration into the confirmation process.

“The deal, it seems one-sided, and it grants a bit more power to the administration, whether it be the Obama administration or subsequent administrations.”