After the resignation of Van Jones over his 9/11 Truther connections, Republicans feel energized to tackle what they see as the greatest abuse of power in the Obama administration: the proliferation of czars. Fittingly, it starts in the Senate, the legislative body Barack Obama has bypassed with his proliferation of unaccountable commissars in government. Yesterday, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) delivered a blistering attack on the apparatchiks of Obama’s government and the way it undermines the checks and balances in the system:
According to news accounts, there are 32 or 34 so-called czars in the Obama White House. Respected voices in the Senate—Senator Byrd and Senator Hutchison, a senior Democrat and a senior Republican—have pointed out that these czars are an affront to the Constitution. They’re anti-democratic. They are a poor example of a new era of transparency which was promised to this country. They are a poor way to manage the government and they seem to me to be the principal symptom of this administrations eight-month record of too many Washington takeovers.
Sunday, Kay Bailey Hutchinson expanded on that argument in the Washington Post:
Nearly 250 years later, these critical lines of separation are being obscured by a new class of federal officials. A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as “czars.” They hold unknown levels of power over broad swaths of policy. Under the Obama administration, we have an unprecedented 32 czar posts (a few of which it has yet to fill), including a “car czar,” a “pay czar” and an “information czar.” There are also czars assigned to some of the broadest and most consequential topics in policy, including health care, terrorism, economics and key geographic regions.
So what do these czars do? Do they advise the president? Or do they impose the administration’s agenda on the heads of federal agencies and offices who have been vetted and confirmed by the Senate? Unfortunately — and in direct contravention of the Framers’ intentions — virtually no one can say with certainty what these individuals do or what limits are placed on their authority. We don’t know if they are influencing or implementing policy. We don’t know if they possess philosophical views or political affiliations that are inappropriate or overreaching in the context of their work.
This is precisely the kind of ambiguity the Framers sought to prevent. Article One tasks the legislative branch with establishing federal agencies, defining what they do, determining who leads them and overseeing their operations. Article Two requires the president to seek the advice and consent of the Senate when appointing certain officials to posts of consequence. Thus, authority is shared between government branches, guaranteeing the American people transparency and accountability.
It’s well past time for the Republicans to demand answers on the massive expansion of “czars” in the government. A proper Congress would have balked at it regardless of the political parties involved. They represent a deliberate attempt to undermine the role of Congress as a check on executive power, and set a very dangerous precedent for subsequent administrations of both parties. Until now, Congress has jealously protected its Constitutional prerogatives, a task in which the current leadership in the Senate has utterly failed.