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Editorial: ‘Czarism’

Members of Congress of both parties have raised serious questions about President Barack Obama’s appointment of multiple “czars— capable of making national policy without legislative oversight.

The issue deserves — and hopefully will receive — serious exploration. But, like practically everything else these days, it has been turned into a political fight.

That’s partly because Glenn Beck, the Fox News rabble-rouser, elevated it by revealing that Van Jones, the White House “green jobs czar,— had a background as a left-wing extremist.

Jones departed the administration, but after that, when “czarism— was questioned by Republicans, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Bob Bennett (Utah) and Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), White House aides responded snarkily with “Where were they when Bush did it?— and “We will call you out.—

Instead, the president should answer a thoughtful letter written to him Sept. 14 by Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and five other GOP Senators, which stipulated that not every post referred to in the media as a “czar— — numbering as many as 34 — is problematic.

But, the letter said, at least 18 new positions created by the administration “may be undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress or express statutory assignments of responsibility to other executive branch officials.—

Among the posts on the Senators’ list, which was not included in the letter, are White House “czars— for energy and environmental policy, health care reform, urban affairs and cybersecurity, plus others in various departments who oversee Afghanistan policy, autos, manufacturing and financial industry pay. None are subject to Senate confirmation.

The Senators asked Obama to explain the authority and responsibilities of the jobs, the administration’s vetting process — given Jones, clearly not as careful as for confirmable posts — and whether the occupants would give information to Congress.

Doubts about “czarism— were expressed long before the Jones dust-up by Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), who wrote to Obama in February that “the rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff 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. … As presidential assistants, they are not accountable to Congress, to Cabinet officials and to virtually anyone but the president.—

Also this month, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) wrote Obama, asking him to square his naming “czars— with the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which provides that executive posts should be created by law and subject to Senate confirmation.

Feingold is trying to get the administration to cooperate in hearings before his Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and Collins and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) are discussing hearings in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

We hope the administration will cooperate with both panels and, to the extent that “czars— are making policy and can’t be questioned by Congress, that Members will “call out— the White House.