I wish some critic of “czardom” would pick a single official and specify what inappropriate powers have been designated to that official. And I wish the national political press corps had either the brains or the nerve to ask obvious questions rather than just doing stenography for charlatans.

The gullibility of the national political press corps has seldom been on more hideous display.  Glenn Beck and his tame dogs in Congress have managed to make “czars” an issue without anyone’s ever bothering to define the term “czar.”

There are now 100 co-sponsors (99 of them Republicans) for a bill that purports to forbid paying the salaries of “any task force, council, or similar office which is established by or at the direction of the President and headed by an individual who has been inappropriately appointed to such position (on other than an interim basis), without the advice and consent of the Senate.”

Huh?  What does “inappropriately” mean?  Who decides?  This isn’t legislation; this a press release.

The bill specifies that it applies to any un-confirmed official who:

performs or delegates functions which (but for the establishment of such task force, council, or similar office) would be performed or delegated by an individual in a position to which the President appoints an individual by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Again, the but-for clause is nonsensical.  If some power statutorily resides in a Cabinet agency, the President can’t take that power away and give it to a WH staffer, confirmed or not. 

The issue is supposed to be about un-confirmed White House staff wielding extraordinary power, but one of the targets has been “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein, whose job at OIRA is (1) created by statute;(2) Senate confirmed; and (3) designed to rein in regulatory excess.

Yes, there are a variety of White House staffers who have been designated as having the lead role in various policy areas.   But what makes some of them “inappropriate”?  Who is supposed to make the list of “czars”?  And what would the President have to do to “un-czar” someone?

Here’s my challenge to Red Blogistan:  Pick a single official you’re calling a “czar.”  Specify what grant of power to that person is “inappropriate.”  Then let’s talk.

Again, the astounding thing isn’t that Republicans are pulling this stupid pet trick, but that reporters are covering it rather than asking basic questions about it.

Footnote  And of course under the theory of the “unitary executive” so beloved of the GOP when the Beloved Leader was in power, Congress can’t even ask these people questions, let alone regulate the President’s management of his own staff.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

6 thoughts on “Czardom”

  1. We used to call the person in charge of our coffee club at work the "Coffee Czar". I assure that this was really a shit job and it had no monarchical, dictatorial or other inappropriate powers.

  2. It's worth mentioning that the Republicans in the Senate have now blocked the confirmations of an appalling proportion of appointees for some 9 months. So the "pay only the confirmed" rule is suspect.

  3. A sidelight on that problem with confirmations — courtesy of Carl Tobias at Findlaw. The 4th Circuit now has 1/3 of its seats unfilled, 5 of 15. One of those seats has remined unfilled since Clinton was President. (One of Bush's nominees for the slot, fortunately blocked by the Democrats, was Claude 'Return It even if you didn't buy it' Allen.)

  4. My lord, do they know how many task forces that exist within federal law enforcement that fall within that definition? The joint terrorist task force being the only one that I can think of quickly that is codified, but beyond that, hundreds. In Los Angeles alone: auto theft task force, container theft task force, soft top container smuggling task force,a variety of HIDTA ad hoc task forces, assorted violent crime task forces. I can not even begin to tell you how many.

  5. Presumably this bit of bill language was drafted by some unelected, anonymous, & unaccountable leg counsel, who plainly wasn't vetted for competence.

  6. Make the bill effective in January, 2013 or 2017 and I'll support it. It would be good to test the constitutionality of the de facto confirmation/non-confirmation process. This is simply a stunt.

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