All the President's 'Czars'

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The White House has heard the chatter that the president is pulling an "all around power grab" by appointing policy czars that don't require Senate confirmation, thus not being held accountable by Congress.

In this administration, there are dozens of them; everything from a "Pay Czar" to a "Car Czar." There is even a Guantanamo Closure Czar.

During this year's Congressional Correspondent Dinner, the president even joked about the volume of czars in his administration saying, "ABC is planning a series called "Dancing with the Czars."

No Laughing Matter

But this is no laughing matter to some, especially to those at town hall meetings last month.

"I think you need to tell President Obama that you're exercising your congressional oversight that there are no czars in America," one man stood up and told his congressman.
 
And some Republican congressman are taking action.

"This czar issue came up probably second behind the health care issue," said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.

Congressman Rooney co-sponsored a bill that said if you are a policy czar that has not been confirmed by the Senate, then you get no salary and no funds whatsoever from Congress.

"When you're talking about somebody that reports directly to the president, we need to take a serious look," Rooney added. "The courts need to take a serious look, interpret the Constitution, look at czars specifically, and determine where they fit."
 
There is also quite a bit of pushback coming from Capitol Hill. Congressman Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. is calling for all of Obama's czars to testify before Congress about their "authority and responsibilities."

Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana also wants the president to suspend any more czar appointments until Congress can determine the constitutionality of their appointments.

Even long time Democratic senators like Sens. Russ Feingold, D- Wis., and Robert Byrd, D- W.Va., have a problem with it.

Byrd sent a letter to Obama stating, "The rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the constitutional system of checks and balances."

"Anybody who has real policy making power that goes beyond giving advice to the president ought to have Senate confirmation," Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said.

The Presidents' Czars

Since the days of President Richard Nixon there have always been policy "czars." Just not at this alarming rate.

Congressman Jack Kingston, a fierce critic of the president on this issue, is keeping a record on his Web site where he tallied up the number of czars per recent president.

  • Ronald Reagan had three czars in eight years.
  • George W. Bush had 14 czars in eight years.
  • President Obama has 34 czars in just six months. 

However, Obama's count is a disputable number because some of those were already czar appointments created by the Bush administration. Plus, some on the list, like Science Czar John Holdren, have actually been confirmed by the Senate.

Liberals believe conservatives are making way too much of the situation.

"If the argument is that this is some kind of indication of creeping big government, it just seems like it's 900th on the list," said Chris Hayes, Washington editor for The Nation.

"I mean, something like holding people without a right to trial or asserting the states secrets privilege strikes me as a much much bigger threat to liberty than whether some mid-level bureaucrat inside the Council of Environmental Quality is called by the media a czar or not," he added.

A Bold New Way

The White House said the president has so many policy initiatives that he needs several more people to help the agenda move forward. Whatever it is, it is definitely a bold new way of doing business.

"This is a management-philosophy issue as much as anything else. Where are you going to put the locus of decision making?" Ornstein asked.
 
The White House is determined to not let this czar story spin out of control. The administration has posted a myth vs. reality response on their Web site. White House press Secretary Robert Gibbs has also pointed out that the loudest Republican critics now were not complaining of czars during the Bush administration.

"I think it's been somewhat remarkable that in previous administrations so-called criticism of this has been a bit deafening," Gibbs said. "The silence has been deafening, only to have it come around as a political issue now."
 
The truth is some czars carry more clout and policy decision power than others.

For example, Green Jobs Czar Van Jones resigned after conservatives brought to light his past controversial statements and actions. But he didn't hold much power.

Yet Energy Czar Carol Browner does hold power and she may be the next target for conservatives. She used to be a member of Socialist International, which claims to support socialism and is very critical of U.S. policies.

Also, FCC Diversity Czar Mark Lloyd is on the conservative radar for pushing mandatory diversity in broadcast station ownership and requirements for alternative viewpoints on the radio.

"There are some questions of some people who may have a lot of power who are not being held accountable when they should because there isn't a Senate confirmation process. But we shouldn't push this too far," Ornstein added.

But for conservatives who see the president as a big government socialist, the push has only just begun.

*Originally aired Sept. 22, 2009

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