It’s the middle of July, and President Trump still doesn’t have a chairman for his Council of Economic Advisers. His nominee, Kevin Hassett, is a world-recognized expert on taxation, but he has been stuck on the sidelines despite tax reform being one of the administration’s big goals this year. He is the one person who could explain how the different parts of the tax bill fit together.
White House advisor Gary Cohn has reportedly told associates that time is running out for tax reform. He worries that if tax reform doesn't get done by the end of the year, it likely won’t happen at all. Missing key players such as Hassett doesn’t help.
The delay reflects only Democrat’s unwillingness to confirm any Trump nominee. Hassett is not a controversial pick.
The Senate Banking Committee very easily advanced Hassett’s nomination last month, with only Elizabeth Warren opposing. Other liberal Democrats such as Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jack Reed (R.I.), Robert Menedez (N.J.), and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) all voted in Hassett’s favor.
According to organizations such as the AFL-CIO, the League of Conservation Voters, and Americans for Democratic Action, these Senators have perfect or near-perfect liberal voting records. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the only committee member who opposed Hassett.
The economists who know Hassett best also support him. Forty-four prominent economists, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike, signed a letter supporting Hassett’s confirmation.
It read, in part, as follows: “While the signers of this letter hold a range of views on President Trump’s policies, we all believe that the formulation of economic policy would be advanced by the analysis and advice that Dr. Hassett would bring to the table.” They also noted Hassett’s “record of serious scholarship.” The signers included all of President Obama’s Council Chairmen (Jason Furman, Alan Krueger, Christina Romer, Austan Goolsbee), President Clinton’s chairs (Laura Tyson, Martin Baily), Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economist Jared Bernstein, and Obama economic advisor Mark Zandi.
Going back to 1980, the average time to confirm a Council Chairman was 25 days. For incoming administrations such as Trump’s, which are already short-handed, the average confirmation period is 13 days, with the longest lasting 25 days.
Hassett’s confirmation stands at 76 days and counting. For past incoming administrations, the chairman would have officially started his job by around February 26.
Not a single nomination to this position has ever taken anywhere near as long as Hassett’s. Some of the responsibility lies with the administration, but Democrats have done everything they can to slow down all of President Trump’s nominees. Demanding cloture filings for every single nominee, no matter how uncontroversial, means two days of debate before cloture can even be voted on, and then an additional 30 hours after that.
So far, only 24 percent of Trump's nominees have been confirmed. At this point in their administrations, Obama had 57 percent of his nominees confirmed and George W. Bush had 59 percent. And the low confirmation rate isn’t because Trump has clogged up the system with nominees. Trump has made just 206 nominations, compared to 355 for Obama and 313 for Bush.
Not only does this mean that the administration’s chief economist is sidelined, but it also slows down the hiring of other economists on the president’s council. Until he is confirmed, Hassett can’t start filling positions under him. The economists who would be working on health care, education, the environment, and infrastructure aren’t in positions to help push through the administration’s policies.
People in the White House have told me that the current Council of Economic Advisers has been useless, staffed as it is with only Democrats who are hostile to Trump’s policies. As a result, others in the White House have had to do the research and put together the analyses that would normally be done by the Council.
Few seem to understand that Democrats’ unwillingness to confirm nominees slows down the appointment of other, lower-level members of the administration.
President Trump runs an efficient ship. Under Melania, the first lady’s staff is 4. Under Michelle Obama, there were 22 people doing the same job. For Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton, there were 18 and up to 19 respectively. The whole Trump administration is making do with less, but the Democrats won’t even let him fill those positions.
With the demise this week of the health care bill, getting tax reform accomplished becomes even more crucial to the administration.
Many liberal economists endorsed Hassett because he has a long history of reaching out to work with them. They know him as an intelligent person who cares about getting the policy right, not as someone who holds partisan grudges.
Democratic Senators, on the other hand, who are delaying all of Trump’s nominations, are engaging in rank partisanship. If they want anyone to believe that they care about bipartisanship, they need to stop delaying non-controversial nominations such as Hassett’s.