A panel of constitutional scholars told the Senate that lawmakers can’t really do anything about Team Obama’s massive proliferation of unaccountable appointees with unlimited authority — until they get caught exceeding their assigned powers.
Which, of course, we know so little about because the White House has kept so many czar budgets and staffing out of public view.
Via the LATimes:
Called together by Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), who had written to Obama asking for more information about the czars, the panel concluded that Obama has the right to appoint independent advisors. The experts said the principle had been established long ago by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“The president’s personal staff are independently responsible only to the president — and in the end he is the only ‘czar’ that is,” said Bradley H. Patterson, a presidential scholar. “And he is accountable to the American electorate.”
John Harrison, a University of Virginia law professor, compared the czars to the position of White House chief of staff, saying both hold great influence and can speak for the president, but their legal powers are limited.
Their “practical authority . . . is not legal authority, and as long as the distinction is rigorously maintained there will be no legal problem,” Harrison said in his written testimony.
Ignoring the superfluousness of the health care czar, the energy czar, and the urban czar, White House legal counsel Greg Craig asserted in a letter to czar critic Sen. Russ Feingold (one of an increasing number of Democrats who have complained about the phenomenon) that “[n]either the purpose nor the effect of these new positions is to supplant or replace existing federal agencies or departments.”
From Feingold’s Senate statement at the czar hearing:
“The White House decided not to accept my invitation to send a witness to this hearing to explain its position on the constitutional issues we will address today. That’s unfortunate. It’s also a bit ironic since one of the concerns that has been raised about these officials is that they will thwart congressional oversight of the Executive Branch.
“The White House seems to want to fight the attacks against it for having too many ‘czars’ on a political level rather than a substantive level. I don’t think that’s the right approach. If there are good answers to the questions that have been raised, why not give them instead of attacking the motives or good faith of those who have raised questions?
“No one disputes that the president is allowed to hire advisors and aides. In fact, the president is entitled, by statute, to have as many as fifty high-level employees working for him and making top salaries. But Congress and the American people have the right to ensure that the positions in our government that have been delegated legal authority are also the positions that are exercising that authority. If – and I am not saying this is the case — individuals in the White House are exercising legal authority or binding the executive branch without having been given that power by Congress, that’s a problem. And Congress also has the right to verify that any directives given by a White House czar to a Cabinet member are directly authorized by the president.”
The LAT piece ends with a shrug of the shoulders:
The experts also agreed that Congress has limited options if it chooses to rein in these positions. T.J. Halstead, a researcher at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, testified that the most effective answer for Congress is persistent oversight.
Experts agree: You’ll just have to wait until czars overstep authority to do anything about ’em!
Which, of course, underscores the importance of do-it-yourself vetting by citizen watchdogs.
We need to continue doing the job the rest of Washington won’t do.
And as I emphasized in Culture of Corruption: Sunlight — bright and unrelenting — is the best disinfectant.
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