Friday, February 18, 2011

A Crisis of Czars

President George W. Bush speaks to the press after the signing of the 2008 Economic Report Monday Feb. 11, 2008, in the Oval Office. Joining President Bush are, from left, Chuck Blahous, Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy; Pierce Scranton, Chief of Staff, Council of Economic Advisors; Eddie Lazear, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisors; Donald Marron, Senior Economic Advisor, Council of Economic Advisors; and Keith Hennessey, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

That, is a shot from the George Bush Archives.

I pop it up because of this wee gem on the House slate.

The House has decided to draw a line in the sand against experts who have experience and who keep the President informed and help formulate policy.  Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has introduced the measure, "I think this sends a strong signal to the president that we are tired of him running this shadow government, where they have got these czars that are literally circumventing the accountability and scrutiny that goes with Senate confirmation."  Likewise he states, "We are going to save millions of taxpayer dollars, but we are also going to send him a signal that he is going to have to hold his administration accountable to the same transparency that he promised, but has unfortunately failed to deliver."

What is interesting isn't the move to defund positions in the Cabinet--which is troubling enough, and is something that I'm not sure that the Representative has thought clearly through since the House and Senate change hands fair often, as do the folks in the Big Chair--but the lack of anything remotely looking like awareness that the term "czar" is a nickname that has been given to Advisors to the President, for a long while. Since Woodrow Wilson, who appointed Bernard Baruch to run the War Industries Board late in WWI.  The nice folks at Wikipedia have compiled a list of "Czars" that have served since FDR.

The interesting take away from that list is that Bill Clinton appointed 8 such posts.  George W Bush appointed 33. To be fair, President Obama has appointed 54. The uptick in these Advisors comes down to an expansion of issues that the Administration sees as important, such as climate change, the special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation at the Council on Environmental Quality; the senior adviser to the secretary of the treasury assigned to the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry and senior counselor for manufacturing policy; the White House director of urban affairs; the special envoy to oversee the closure of Guantanamo Bay; the special master for TARP executive compensation at the Department of the Treasury; and the associate general counsel and chief diversity officer at the Federal Communications Commission.

AIDS apparently is still enough of a crisis to warrent a post, as it was during the Bush Presidency, though likewise to be fair, President Obama declined to continue with a Bird Flu Czar as under his predecessor. Likewise, copyright law is apparently important enough to warrent a post for both Administrations as well.  Likewise, issues of regulation, budget, terrorism, and even faith based initiatives are fine. All of these, the President has continued posts from the previous Administration.

Where was the gnashing of teeth when the number of "Czars" grew to over four times that of the Clinton Presidency?  The issue isn't about transparency--which the Administration actually has a "Czar" for, to advise on how to present things better--but rather, a focus on green energy, closing GITMO, diversity, and gutting economic policy to better the field for the coming Presidential election. While the Gentleman from Louisiana may talk a good game about belt tightening, it boils down to limiting the Presdient's effectiveness on issues that have potential to be disastrous for some interests who really don't like the idea of alternatives being found, or government efficiency to improve upon.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

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