Lamar Alexander, Marsha Blackburn criticize Obama's use of 'czars'

GOP says power undercuts Congress

Posted on September 18, 2009

Two Tennessee Republicans, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, are at the forefront of a campaign in recent days to criticize President Barack Obama for the number of policy "czars" he has appointed. The GOP attacks, framed as a constitutional argument about the executive branch usurping the power of the legislative branch, also seek to portray Obama as a power-hungry elitist looking to use the federal government to take over many aspects of Americans' lives. "They're anti-democratic," Alexander said of Obama's czar appointments in a floor speech this week. "They are a poor way to manage the government, and they seem to me to be the principal symptom of this administration's eight-month record of too many Washington takeovers." Republicans, joined by a handful of Democrats, complain that some appointees have considerable power but don't have to undergo Senate confirmation. They cite the case of Van Jones, a Jackson, Tenn., native who was Obama's special adviser for green jobs. Jones resigned this month after critics pummeled him for using an epithet to describe Republicans and for signing a petition calling for an inquiry into whether Bush administration officials deliberately allowed the 2001 terrorist attacks to occur. Alexander acknowledged that recent presidents have had advisers on specific issues, but he said, "There has never been anything quite like this." He said Obama has appointed between 32 and 34 administration czars, and only eight required Senate confirmation. Among those who did not, Alexander said, is Nancy-Ann DeParle, the Tennessee native who is director of the White House Office of Health Reform. Blackburn, of Brentwood, introduced legislation this week that would ask the White House to report on all policy czars in the administration. It also calls for congressional hearings on their use. Another House Republican bill would essentially deny pay to anyone the president hires without the advice and consent of the Senate. "All presidents have a right to staff their administration as they see fit within the confines of the Constitution," Blackburn said. "Where I have concerns is when a president shifts duties away from officials who are subject to congressional oversight to those on his personal staff who are not." Democrats fired back directly at Alexander and Blackburn, accusing them of hypocrisy for their support of previous czars. They cited speeches by Alexander in 2003 endorsing czars for manufacturing and AIDS policy, and Blackburn's vote for a proposal to create a czar for intellectual property rights. Alexander said it was improper to criticize his speech because he has acknowledged that previous presidents have had czars. A spokesman for Blackburn said the position she supported would have required Senate confirmation. The Democratic National Committee released a Web video Thursday pointing out the 47 czars who served in the Bush administration. The video shows Fox News commentator Glenn Beck reciting a list of Obama czars as it superimposes the images of Bush officials who filled similar roles. A Tennessean Washington Bureau analysis of a list compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense of 32 administration czars found five who appeared to be filling newly created positions not mandated by Congress or subject to congressional review. Those positions include: White House adviser on violence against women (Lynn Rosenthal), chief information officer (Vivek Kundra), coordinator for the prevention of weapons of mass destruction proliferation (Gary Samore), director of the Office of Urban Affairs (Adolfo Carrion) and special adviser for green jobs, the position that Jones held.