DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The President's Czars

When you think of czars, you probably think of pre-Communist Russia. Well, there are a growing number of czars in Washington, D.C. too, most all of them based at the White House. There's the Auto Recovery Czar, not to be confused with the Car Czar. Then there's the Food Czar and the Healthy Food Initiative Czar. There's the Cyber Security Czar, the Health Reform Czar, and the Climate Czar. And that's just a small part of the list

Why would presidents appoint these czars? Basically, they are used to facilitate and coordinate attacks on problems and issues that go beyond the scope of one department of the Federal government to handle such as the Gulf Coast oil spill or the auto industry bailout. Reporting only to the White House, they also demonstrate that a president is taking serious action.

But there is a problem with this approach, says George Mason University professor and noted Constitutional scholar on executive privilege Mark Rozell. The position of a czar not vetted and confirmed by the Senate is not specified anywhere in the Constitution, making such appointments unconstitutional.

"They represent a growth of presidential powers far, far greater that the Constitutional framers would ever have considered or approved of. The framers were  suspicious of executive power and placed strong restraints on the president," Rozell contends. "These czars do not fit anywhere in the Constitution. They are individuals acting alone without any Congressional oversight. Presidents may find utility in having czars, but they are a Constitutional aberration. Merely because a position has utility, that doesn't make it Constitutional."

As part of a continuing series of lectures marking the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, Rozell appeared at the National Archives today to discuss the new book he co-authored entitled The President's Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution. 

The idea of powerful presidential appointed problem solvers, which proponents say is simply a way to use Constitutionally approved presidential discretion to act in the national interest, is nothing new  There are scattered instances from the 19th Century. But the process really came into its own during  World War I and II, when America had to quickly mobilize and gear up to defeat its enemies. But the idea of czars seems to have exploded with the complex problems faced by the 21st Century presidents George W. Bush and Barrack Obama. "These presidents selected a number of people who are making significant policy, regulatory, and budgetary decisions with no power or (Congressional) balance," Rozell said.

So if these positions are unconstitutional, why hasn't there been more of an outcry? As with so many issues in Washington, the problem is partisanship. Rozell said outspoken right-wing commentator Glenn Beck has regularly attacked Obama for his czar appointments, but that issue has been lost in the constant tirades Beck levels against Obama and anyone else who doesn't agree with him. Senator and Obama opponent in the 2008 election, John McCain has been quoted as saying "Obama has more czars than the Romanoffs." But so far, all efforts originating in Congress to eliminate the presidential practice have fallen short.

Rozell said he is not surprised that presidents want to name czars. "Presidents are quite adept at taking advantage of crises to expand their power and Obama is acting according to type," he said. 

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
The Archives will continue offering special programs on the Constitution, but October will mark a one-month series on the Cuban Missile Crisis, which put America on the brink of nuclear war 50 years ago. To see a list of special programs for the month of October, click here.

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