Ad­min­is­tra­tion won’t sub­ject czars to con­gres­sional in­quiry

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The White House has told Congress it will re­ject calls for many of Pres­i­dent Obama’s pol­icy czars to tes­tify be­fore Congress — a de­ci­sion se­na­tors said goes against the pres­i­dent’s prom­ises of trans­parency and open­ness and treads on Congress’ con­sti­tu­tional man­date to in­ves­ti­gate the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions.

Sen. Su­san Collins, Maine Repub­li­can, said White House coun­sel Greg Craig told her in a meet­ing Oct. 21 that they will not make avail­able any of the czars who work in the White House and don’t have to go through Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. She said he was “murky” on whether other czars out­side of the White House would be al­lowed to come be­fore Congress.

Miss Collins said that doesn’t make sense when some of those czars are ac­tu­ally mak­ing pol­icy or ne­go­ti­at­ing on be­half of Mr. Obama.

“I think Congress should be able to call the pres­i­dent’s cli­mate czar, Carol Browner, the en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment czar, to ask her about the ne­go­ti­a­tions she con­ducted with the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try that led to very sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy changes with re­gard to emis­sions stan­dards,” Miss Collins said at a hear­ing Oct. 22 that ex­am­ined the pro­lif­er­a­tion of czars.

The White House has told Congress it will re­ject calls for many of Pres­i­dent Obama’s pol­icy czars to tes­tify be­fore Congress — a de­ci­sion se­na­tors said goes against the pres­i­dent’s prom­ises of trans­parency and open­ness and treads on Congress’ con­sti­tu­tional man­date to in­ves­ti­gate the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions.

Sen. Su­san Collins, Maine Repub­li­can, said White House coun­sel Greg Craig told her in a meet­ing Oct. 21 that they will not make avail­able any of the czars who work in the White House and don’t have to go through Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. She said he was “murky” on whether other czars out­side of the White House would be al­lowed to come be­fore Congress.

Miss Collins said that doesn’t make sense when some of those czars are ac­tu­ally mak­ing pol­icy or ne­go­ti­at­ing on be­half of Mr. Obama.

“I think Congress should be able to call the pres­i­dent’s cli­mate czar, Carol Browner, the en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment czar, to ask her about the ne­go­ti­a­tions she con­ducted with the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try that led to very sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy changes with re­gard to emis­sions stan­dards,” Miss Collins said at a hear­ing Oct. 22 that ex­am­ined the pro­lif­er­a­tion of czars.

The de­bate goes to the heart of weighty con­sti­tu­tional is­sues about sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. The pres­i­dent ar­gues that he should be al­lowed to have ad­vis­ers who are free to give him con­fi­den­tial ad­vice without hav­ing to fear be­ing called to tes­tify about it. Democrats and Repub­li­cans in Congress, though, ar­gue that those in of­fice who ac­tu­ally craft pol­icy should be able to be sum­moned to tes­tify be­cause they do more than just give the pres­i­dent ad­vice.

At is­sue are the 18 po­si­tions Miss Collins says Mr. Obama has cre­ated since he took of­fice. Of those, she says 10 — the White House says eight — are in the ex­ec­u­tive of­fice and not sub­ject to Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quests or re­quests for tes­ti­mony.

Czar is an in­for­mal term given to the po­si­tions.

Sen. Joe Lieber­man, Con­necti­cut in­de­pen­dent and chair­man of the gov­ern­ment af­fairs com­mit­tee, asked the White House to pro­vide a wit­ness for the Oct. 22 hear­ing but it did not send one.

In a let­ter two weeks ago to Miss Collins, though, Mr. Craig ex­plained that the White House is not try­ing to cir­cum­vent Congress.

“We rec­og­nize that it is the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble that a pres­i­dent could cre­ate new po­si­tions that in­hibit trans­parency or un­der­mine con­gres­sional over­sight. That is sim­ply not the case, how­ever, in the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Mr. Craig wrote.

Mr. Craig said the new po­si­tions Mr. Obama has cre­ated within the White House “are solely ad­vi­sory in na­ture” and have no in­de­pen­dent au­thor­ity.

Se­na­tors dis­agreed with that eval­u­a­tion, point­ing to Mrs. Browner and health care czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, who is Mr. Obama’s health care ad­viser.

“We do hap­pen to have a Cab­i­net of­fi­cer with Health and Hu­man Ser­vices with whom I have never had a con­ver­sa­tion on health care, not be­cause I have any op­po­si­tion to her but be­cause it’s my per­cep­tion Nancy-Ann DeParle is call­ing the shots,” said Sen. Robert F. Ben­nett, Utah Repub­li­can.

Le­gal ex­perts tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the Se­nate panel said Congress needs to be care­ful not to over­reach in re­act­ing. They said op­tions open to law­mak­ers in­clude writ­ing new laws to re­strict ad­vis­ers’ au­thor­ity or writ­ing the po­si­tions into law as need­ing Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. A White House aide, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said they are try­ing to work to ac­com­mo­date “all rea­son­able con­gres­sional re­quests for in­for­ma­tion” and said some White House ad­vis­ers have given in­for­mal brief­ings to mem­bers of Congress in lieu of tes­ti­mony.

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