Robert Byrd and Executive Power

by Sal on February 25, 2009

in Law,Politics

You have to give Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) credit for consistency.  I do not like the man or agree at all with his politics, but he is consistent in his views on the separation of powers, no matter who is President.  Granted, he tends to believe in the supremacy of the legislative branch in his views, but those views are interesting nonetheless.  Today, Byrd attacked  the Obama administration for engaging in a “power grab.” Specifically, Byrd does not approve of the appointment of various “czars” to oversee health care, energy, climate change, and urban affairs.  Rather, Byrd sees those positions as rightfully belonging to the various cabinet positions which are under congressional oversight.  In a letter to Obama today, Byrd wrote that the creation of these offices:

…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 and advisers, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials, and to virtually anyone but the president.  They rarely testify before congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.

It is an interesting constitutional question in regards to what constitutes an executive position that is under congressional oversight and how much authority and scope can be assigned to non-legislated presidential advisers.  The constitution says nothing of Presidential ad visors, only officers of the United States established by law, and these officers are under congressional oversight.  It seems to me that, under Obama’s czar system, a President could skirt the oversight in general by appointing a limitless number of “czars” to oversee all aspects of government.  Where I think Byrd may have a point is that it may be unconstitutional if Obama assigns duties to these advisers or “czars” that by statute rightly belong to cabinet-level officers such as the Secretaries of the Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the head of the EPA.  In any case, it is refreshing to see, by at least one member of the Democrat party, a continuance of the arguments regarding checks and balances that help to keep a healthy Republic, and that there is at least some consistency in the Democrat party.  Right or wrong, Byrd’s position appears to be principled.

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