Byrd: Czars Executive Power Grab
Old Man Byrd is at it again:
West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving Democratic senator, on Wednesday criticized President Barack Obama’s appointment of White House “czars” to oversee federal policy, saying these executive positions amount to a power grab by the executive branch.
Byrd complained in a letter to the president that his decision to create White House offices on health care reform, urban affairs policy, and energy and climate change “can threaten the constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials.”
You’ve got to hand it to the man: He’s at least consistent. While I’m often critical of him, not least for his own “power grab” in bringing home to West Virginia much more than its fair share of federal taxpayer money, he is in many ways exactly what the Framers envisioned when creating the Senate. He is keenly interested in protecting his own power base, jealously guarding it from encroachment. That’s exactly as James Madison intended (see Federalist 10).
In this particular case, Byrd’s probably wrong. I’m not a fan of “czars” to deal with public policy problems, either. But, despite their unfortunately autocratic nickname, the problem is actually precisely the opposite: They have too little power to get anything done.
When was the last time you heard from Doug Lute, the 3-star “war tsar” that Bush appointed and Obama has retained? Compared to CENTCOM honcho David Petraeus, JCS chair Mike Mullen, SECDEF Bob Gates, SecState Hillary Clinton, NSA Jim Jones, and others, he’s got no budget, no staff, no authority, and no access to the president.
So it goes with “tsars.” They need the cooperation of cabinet level officers who actually control the necessary resources. Given that they’ve typically got huge egos and have given up much more lucrative gigs in order to make a difference in public policy, they tend not to be very cooperative with people who don’t answer to the name “Mr. President.”