Published July 15, 2009
Republicans and some Democrats are complaining that there are too many so-called czars in the Obama administration, and now the Senate Health committee even is proposing a health care czar to oversee the overhaul of the system.
By some accounts, Obama has nearly three dozen czars in his administration, managing everything from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to ending the genocide in Darfur.
Rep. Jack Kington, R-Ga., promised legislation to address what he's call a "parallel government" that he says diminishes the Senate advice and consent role.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, says she doesn't see a constitutional issue but she expressed concern that the president may be breaking his promise of transparency.
"By creating these czars that are insulated from accountability, whose work is not transparent, he's moving in exactly the opposite direction," she said.
Since some of the positions don't require confirmation hearings, Collins said, Congress loses some of its oversight ability. But a third of the czar positions do require Senate confirmation.
And Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution says few of the remaining czars would ignore a congressional invitation to testify.
"I don't see this in the slightest as a constitutional issue but as I do see it as a continuation as wonderful tensions that are built into the Constitution between the executive and the legislature," he said.
Hess described the opposition to the czars as political concerns of Republicans worried that a powerful president with a congressional majority will further erode their minority status.
But Collins argues there are also issues of accountability.
"Who's in charge of health care?" she asked. "Is it the secretary of Health and Human Services? Or is the White House czar? Who is in charge of environmental and energy issues?