Anti-‘czar’ amendment to get vote – Robin Bravender – POLITICO.com
June 24, 2011
The Senate will vote as early as Wednesday afternoon on a GOP amendment to end the Obama administration’s appointment of a class of top White House policy advisers known as “czars.”
The amendment from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) would strip the salaries of czars currently working in the White House and would block the president from appointing more without Senate approval.
“These czars are provided with a considerable amount of power and influence, putting them on the same level as Cabinet members who are thoroughly vetted and approved by the U.S. Senate, but without the public scrutiny,” Vitter said in a statement. “And I’m very concerned about that undefined authority of what are essentially political advisory positions, especially when the decisions they make can have a profound effect on our lives.”
Senate leadership agreed to allow a vote on the amendment as part of a unanimous consent agreement for moving forward on legislation aimed at speeding up stalled presidential nominations. The vote on the Vitter amendment could occur Wednesday, but is more likely on Thursday, according to a Senate leadership aide.
The amendment, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Dean Heller of Nevada and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, is subject to a 60-vote threshold and is likely to fail in the Democrat-led chamber.
Vitter’s effort is the latest in a series of GOP attacks against White House czars, including a rider that made it into the fiscal 2011 spending bill to strip the salaries of four top White House advisers on health care, climate change, autos and manufacturing, and urban affairs.
But in a signing statement issued after the spending bill was passed in April, President Barack Obama said he’s not obligated to comply.
“Legislative efforts that significantly impede the president’s ability to exercise his supervisory and coordinating authorities or to obtain the views of the appropriate senior advisers violate the separation of powers by undermining the president’s ability to exercise his constitutional responsibilities and take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” the White House said.
Vitter’s office said in a summary of the amendment that it doesn’t unduly restrict the president’s ability to have advisory staff, but is “aimed squarely at positions created in order to circumvent the ‘advise and consent’ role of the United States Senate.”
The amendment defines czars as “the head of any task force, council, policy office or similar office established by or at the direction of the president” without Senate confirmation, and carves out exemptions for individuals serving in positions of assistant secretary that require confirmation and the assistant to the president for national security affairs.
“Czars” as a term for high-ranking White House advisers dates back to the FDR era or even before, but it took on a negative connotation with conservatives after Obama appointed several to oversee major policy programs early in his term.