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Daily Archives: September 17, 2009


White House Defends Czars

Pressure on the White House to justify its use of “czars” in administering policy has ramped up recently, most obviously after the dismissal/resignation of Van Jones. It’s become intense enough that the Obama administration decided to deliver some push back via its whitehouse.gov blog:

Last week, when the President addressed the Joint Session of Congress in a speech on health reform, he referred to some of the untruths – okay, lies – that have been spread about the plan and sent a clear message to those who seek to undermine his agenda and his presidency with these tactics: “We will call you out.” So consider this one of those calls.

Given the lessons from Joey Wilson’s War, that qualifies as hate speech.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen with increasing frequency and volume issues raised around the use of “czars” by this Administration. Although some Members have asked serious questions around the makeup of the White House staff, the bulk of the noise you hear began first with partisan commentators, suggesting that this is somehow a new and sinister development that threatens our democracy. This is, of course, ridiculous. Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration. Many of the officials cited by conservative commentators have been confirmed by the Senate. Many hold policy jobs that have existed in previous Administrations. And some hold jobs that involved coordinating the work of agencies on President Obama’s key policy priorities: health insurance reform, energy and green jobs, and building a new foundation for long-lasting economic growth

But of course, it’s really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s use of “czars”, had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration’s use of “czars”. Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint “czars” to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges. What is clear is that all of this energy going into these attacks could be used to have a constructive conversation about bringing this country together to address our challenges moving forward – and it doesn’t take a “czar” to bring that about! Just some folks willing to act in good faith.

So, if you didn’t complain about czars before, then you can’t do so now? This is the change a lot of (foolish) people voted for? And is the White House really suggesting that there has not been a notable expansion of “czars” under this administration?

Also, keep this statement in mind, because we’ll come back to it: “Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration.” If in fact the Obama administration does refer to these people as “czars” wouldn’t that make this statement a blatant, unmitigated — dare I say it — lie?

Moving on, the White House does its best attempt at a “fact check”:

Rhetoric: Critics have claimed the Obama Administration is filled with new and unchecked czars.

Glenn Beck Claimed There Were 32 “Czars” In The Obama Administration. “The Brainroom counts 32 czars in the Obama administration, based on media reports from reputable sources that have identified the official in question as a czar.” [Glenn Beck Website, 8/21/09]

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Sen. Hutchison Claimed There Were An “Unprecedented 32 Czar Posts.” “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.’” [Washington Post, 9/13/09]

Reality: Many of the arbitrarily labeled “czars” on Beck’s list are Senate-confirmed appointees or advisory roles carried over from previous administrations. Others are advisors to the President’s Cabinet Secretaries. Beck himself says on his own website, “Since czar isn’t an official job title, the number is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.”

Missing from this “reality” is any claim that there are fewer than 32 czars, nor any explanation of how many the White House thinks there are. Virtually all of the push back from Obama is simply a tu quoque argument that exasperatingly waves its hands at Fox News and Republicans for not opposing, and some cases encouraging, Bush’s use of czars. Again, is this the change promised during the election? And how is this any justification for expanding the use of czars now?

The best defense offered is a listing of the czars who went through Senate confirmation:

Of the 32 “czars” on Beck’s list, nine were confirmed by the Senate:

Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes (“California Water Czar”)
Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske (“Drug Czar”)
OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients (“Government Performance Czar”)
Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair (“Intelligence Czar”)
OMB Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein (“Regulatory Czar”)
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and OSTP Director John Holdren (“Science Czar”)
Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Herb Allison (“TARP Czar”)
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton Carter (“Weapons Czar”)
OSTP Associate Director Aneesh Chopra (“Technology Czar”)

Strangely, each one of the names listed above is hotlinked by the White House blog, and all but one them are self-referential links to the post above (i.e. the links link to themselves).

In any case, it’s not made explicit, but it seems that the White House is claiming that these individuals are being classified as czars when in fact they hold legitimately created policy posts. Dave Weigel made the same argument last week:

Here’s the problem: Some of the people whom conservatives and mainstream media voices alike have labeled “czars” have been confirmed by the Senate. Some of them, and others, hold jobs that were created by previous presidents.

Take a look at Politico’s list of 31 “czars,” which shrinks to 30 without Van Jones. Republican strategists like Ed Rollins have used that “31″ number to allege that there’s a problem here. But perhaps the most controversial people labeled “czars” by Beck and by reporters have gone through Senate confirmations. Cass Sunstein, whom Politico labels the “regulatory czar,” is waiting for the end of a Republican filibuster so he can lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office created in 1980. John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was confirmed by the Senate, unanimously, six months ago. But none of that seems to matter to their critics. Michelle Malkin, whom, again, Politico credited for making this an issue, relentlessly refers to Holdren as the “Science Czar” as if it was his actual title.

Weigel goes on to point out several czar positions that were created by previous administrations (the tu quoque argument again), five of which have been confirmed (according to the White House post). He alos lists several new positions created by Obama:

New jobs held by eminent people or people previously confirmed by the Senate:

“Afghanistan Czar” – Actually the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the man holding that job, Richard Holbrooke went through a Senate confirmation hearing in 1999 when he became Bill Clinton’s U.N. ambassador.

“Economic Czar” – Actually the President’s Economic Recovery Board, chaired by Paul Volcker, the deeply uncontroversial former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

“Energy and Environment Czar” – This is Carol Browner, the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1993 to run the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton.

“Guantanamo Closure Czar” – Actually the Special Envoy to Guantanamo, Daniel Fried, who was the final Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Bush administration.

Apparently Weigel thinks it’s just fine for unconfirmed appointees to hold these positions if they were confirmed for another post during some prior administration, or they are just very important people. He chalks all the controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s use of czars up to whining by Republicans and the conservative critics who, once again, are being terribly hypocritical.

Left unanswered, by either the White House or Weigel, is how many of those confirmed appointees are filling positions created by Congress. I haven’t checked, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say somewhere close to all of them were. It would be unusual (and probably unconstitutional) for Congress to give away the power to confirm officials placed in the offices it created. Accordingly, those congressmen lambasted for opposing the use of czars now, while encouraging the creation of them earlier, should be able to take refuge in the fact that the positions they advocated earlier would have likely required confirmation. Again, I haven’t checked, but since the argument is over the large number of unconfirmed appointees to czar positions, then accusations of hypocrisy don’t make much sense if those being called out only supported czars who would be subject to the confirmation process.

Also left unanswered are the following questions and concerns from a prominent Senator made in a letter to Pres. Obama:

As you know, there has been much discussion about your decisions to create and assign apparently significant policy-making responsibilities to White House and other executive positions; many of the persons filling these positions have come to be referred to in the media and even within your administration as policy “czars.” I heard firsthand about this issue on several occasions from my constituents in recent town hall meetings in Wisconsin.

So is this Senator actually calling the administration a bunch of liars for stating: “Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration”?

The Constitution gives the Senate the duty to oversee the appointment of Executive officers through the Appointments Clause in Article II, section 2. The Appointments Clause states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise proved for, and which shall be established by law.” This clause is an important part of the constitutional scheme of separation of powers, empowering the Senate to weigh in on the appropriateness of significant appointments and assisting in its oversight of the Executive Branch.

As a member of the Senate with the duty to oversee executive appointments and as the Chairman of the Senate Constitution Subcommittee, I respectfully urge you to disclose as much information as you can about these policy advisors and “czars.” Specifically, I ask that you identify these individuals’ roles and responsibilities, and provide the judgment(s) of your legal advisors as to whether and how these positions are consistent with the Appointments Clause. I hope that this information will help address some of the concerns that have been raised about new positions in the White House and elsewhere in the Executive Branch, and will inform any hearing that the Subcommittee holds on this topic.

After all the hyperventilating from the White House and its defenders about a partisan witch hunt regarding the czars, you’re probably wondering which Republican hypocrite wrote this letter?

Sincerely,

Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

So, the concerns aren’t just partisan in nature then?

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the president requesting the White House release information regarding the “roles and responsibilities” of the “czars.” The Senate Judiciary Committee member also requested that the president’s legal advisers prepare a “judgment” on the “czars’” constitutionality.

Feingold’s letter represents one of the first examples of Democratic scrutiny of the president’s “czars,” who are not required to be confirmed by the Senate.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has been absent from the Senate since experiencing health issues, also expressed skepticism of Obama’s use of policy “czars” in February.

Well, now that we know this is a bi-partisan concern, surely the White House will take it more seriously:

At today’s White House briefing, Robert Gibbs was asked about a letter raising constitutional concerns about the czar system not from a Republican, but from Obama’s former caucus-mate, Sen. Russ Feingold. The press secretary said he hadn’t seen the letter, but proceeded to echo many of the DNC’s points in a heated response.

“I’m struck by a little of the politics in this,” Gibbs said. He noted that “somebody referred to in the Bush administration as the abstinence czar was on the D.C. madam’s list,” and asked hypothetically: “Did that violate the Constitution or simply offend our sensibilities?”

Nope. Not even a little bit.

The fact remains that the Obama administration is avoiding the confirmation process and installing people into positions of power without any regard to the Constitution or the citizens of the United States. Van Jones was no accident. He is symptomatic of this administration’s determination to remake America in it’s own, nanny-state, progressive, social-justice image. Whether we want to or not.


The Fantasy Of BaucusCare’s Savings

There are a number of people dancing in the street because there’s finally a bill in existence that the CBO says will reduce the deficit. Not by much, but that’s really irrelevant – it does the job that meets one of President Obama’s primary goals.

Of course the plan, authored by Sen. Max Baucus, has also come under fire from both the right and left for various aspects each doesn’t like. But that CBO endorsement, well, they’re pretty happy about that.

However, a close examination of that endorsement should warn everyone with an understanding of politicians and Congressional history off of the plan.

Let me explain. While the CBO does indeed say this plan will reduce the deficit, it makes it very clear that such a reduction is contingent upon some very unlikely happenstance.

First the savings:

[T]he Chairman’s proposal would reduce the federal deficit by $16 billion in 2019, CBO and JCT estimate. After that, the added revenues and cost savings are projected to grow more rapidly than the cost of the coverage expansion. Consequently, CBO expects that the proposal, if enacted, would reduce federal budget deficits over the ensuing decade relative to those projected under current law, with a total effect during that decade that is in a broad range around one-half percent of GDP….

Now that which is very, very unlikely:

These projections assume that the proposals are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation. For example, the sustainable growth rate (SGR) mechanism governing Medicare’s payments to physicians has frequently been modified (either through legislation or administrative action) to avoid reductions in those payments. The projected savings for the Chairman’s proposal reflect the cumulative impact of a number of specifications that would constrain payment rates for providers of Medicare services. The long-term budgetary impact could be quite different if those provisions were ultimately changed or not fully implemented.

The Baucus plan, just like the House plan, derives the majority of its “savings” in cuts in Medicare spending. However, as Peter Suderman at Reason’s Hit & Run explains, the likelyhood of those cuts ever being made, at least to the point necessary to reduce the deficit, is poor at best. Why?

Because of the mechanism the bill uses to make them:

It’s true that the Baucus plan, which creates a commission to figure out how to cut Medicare costs, sets up a slightly more robust framework for cost-cutting than currently exists. But that commission still only gets to make recommendations, and Congress still has the power to block them.

To review – in order to meet the CBO numbers, the bill must be enacted and remain unmodified for two decades. And, Congress must enact the Medicare cuts to the level required of the bill to achieve those reductions.

I ask you – what would you bet on either of those things actually ever coming to pass?

~McQ


Liberal Democrats Try To Crank CRA Up Again

There are many, myself included, who believe the ’70s era Community Reinvestment Act was one of the key reasons for the financial meltdown we experienced since it required lending institutions to lend to unqualified borrowers.

Byron York reports that some Democrats in Congress refuse to acknowledge that and are now pushing to expand both the scope and power of the CRA:

This morning House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Barney Frank held a hearing on H.R. 1479, the “Community Reinvestment Modernization Act of 2009.” The bill’s purpose is “to close the wealth gap in the United States” by increasing “home ownership and small business ownership for low- and moderate-income borrowers and persons of color.” It would extend CRA’s strict lending requirements to non-bank institutions like credit unions, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders. It would also make CRA more explicitly race-based by requiring CRA standards to be applied to minorities, regardless of income, going beyond earlier requirements that applied solely to low- and moderate-income areas.

Barney Frank has never acknowledged the role of government in the collapse of the housing market. He’s refused to acknowledge the role of the CRA or Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae. And, apparently determined to act on his ignorance is now in the middle of trying to revive the program that was at least partly responsible for our financial woes. This makes absolutely no sense.

Republicans on the committee strongly oppose the plan. “Instead of looking to expand the number of institutions that must abide by Community Investment Act regulations,” California Rep. Ed Royce said in prepared opening remarks at today’s hearing, “I think we should reassess the role this and other government mandates played in the financial collapse and consider scaling it back.”

In private conversation, other Republicans were more emphatic. “There is clearly arguable evidence that the CRA is at the root of this financial meltdown,” says one GOP committee member. “So what do they do? They try to expand CRA.”

Republicans also made sure that the CRA’s connection to ACORN was made clear:

Republican critics point out that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has used the CRA to pressure banks to pour money into ACORN and its affiliates, allowing ACORN to facilitate loans to clearly unqualified borrowers. Now, with ACORN under fire after a series of undercover videos showing ACORN workers in Baltimore, Washington DC, New York, and California openly encouraging prostitution, tax evasion, and other crimes, Republicans on the committee are citing the CRA-ACORN connection as yet another reason the Act should not be expanded.

ACORN is presently preparing to investigate itself. A clean bill of health is expected within a few weeks. In the meantime, the bill has 51 cosponsors among the most liberal members of Congress. As York points out, if Democrats in the House want to pass this they can. One wonders if the liberal caucus would be willing to trade the “public option” for passage of this expansion of the CRA and a promise treat ACORN kindly when the time comes. Of course, it would have to be approved by the Senate as well, and that’s a much more dicey prospect.

The point, of course, is this is sheer madness on the part of the Democrats in the House. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It appears that’s precisely what the liberal members of Congress are bound and determined to do.

~McQ


Did Obama Trade Missile Defense For Iranian Sanctions?

Regardless of the reason, he’s left both Poland and the Czech Republic very unhappy with the announcement today that the US is “scrapping” the promised missile defense shield in Eastern Europe:

The former Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, said: “This is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence. It puts us in a position wherein we are not firmly anchored in terms of partnership, security and alliance, and that’s a certain threat.”

The Polish deputy foreign minister, Andrzej Kremer, saidthat Warsaw had heard from different sources there were “serious chances” the anti-missile system would not be deployed.

Russia, of course, is sure to be quite happy with the plan, although it hasn’t yet reacted to the news.

Mr Obama, who is due to meet the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev next week in New York, says he wants better ties with Russia so that the two former Cold War foes can co-operate on Afghanistan and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.

He may also have been reassured by Moscow’s growing willingness to discuss further sanctions against Iran.

Not exactly a sign that the US is a solid and dependable ally to the former eastern satellites of Russia. It has been interesting to watch the foreign policy of this administration develop. Thus far, it has certainly made all sorts of overtures to those we haven’t exactly had great relationships with – but for the most part, as in this case, those overtures have come at the expense of existing relationships with supposed “allies”.

For the 600th time – Russia is not our friend and never will be.   Cooperation in various areas is fine but it shouldn’t be bought at the expense of our allies’ security or pursued from a position of weakness. While the missile defense shield may have only been a token defense, to those it was promised, it meant a solid commitment from the US to their defense. Withdrawing it without notice makes the US much less of a reliable ally in their eyes and may see them trying to seek some sort of accommodation with Russia now. If the intent of US foreign policy to this point was to keep them out of Russia’s orbit, this sort of move is sure to force them more into it.

~McQ