Regulatory nominee courts lawmakers, farm groups

Cass Sunstein, the legal scholar named to head the Office of Management and Budget's influential Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is holding meetings with agricultural lobbyists and farm-state senators in a push to end opposition that has stalled his Senate confirmation for two months.

Sunstein meets Tuesday with Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who placed a hold on his nomination due to Sunstein's writings on animal rights. The nominee also met with farm groups that questioned the nomination on June 15. Sunstein is working at OMB on an unconfirmed basis.

Officials tracking the nomination expect Sunstein to offer assurances at those meetings to persuade Chambliss to lift his hold, clearing the way for his confirmation before the August recess.

A Harvard Law School professor best known for work on subjects like cost-benefit analysis of regulations, Sunstein faces resistance over his more obscure views on animal rights.

In a 2002 article, Sunstein urged "extensive regulation of the use of animals in entertainment, scientific experiments, and agriculture" and said "animals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives."

In May the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, a coalition of nine groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation representing farmers dependent on livestock, wrote senators to express "concern" about those and other Sunstein arguments. Chambliss' hold followed.

The White House and Sunstein have since been assuring the farm groups and senators that Sunstein will not try to boost animal rights if confirmed. Sunstein downplayed his statements on animal rights at his May confirmation hearing.

He also met last month with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who afterward said he gained confidence that Sunstein will not back new restrictions on livestock owners.

Steve Kopperud, who represents two of the groups in the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, said that at a meeting with those groups, "Dr. Sunstein addressed all of our concerns to our satisfaction, and we asked that he convey those assurances to Chambliss in writing, which he has done. "

Aides involved in the talks suggested those assurances will appease Chambliss, though they warned other GOP holds could emerge and Chambliss did not reveal his plans in a recent brief interview.

"We'll see what his comments are relative to his written and his oral statements and we'll go from there," Chambliss said.

The farm lobby's concern about Sunstein reveals the vast perceived power of the head of OIRA to alter and sometimes block regulations issued by other federal agencies. Senators from both parties blocked confirmation of the prior head of OIRA, Susan Dudley, over her anti-regulatory views, but President Bush gave her a recess appointment.

Resistance to Sunstein may also relate to his prominence. A famous academic, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., noted in a June speech decrying the hold, Sunstein also knows President Obama from the University of Chicago Law School.

Sunstein is sometimes listed as a potential Supreme Court nominee and some officials tracking the nomination suggest that may factor in the delay, although Republicans deny it.

The potential movement on the Sunstein nomination comes as the Senate moves to confirm another stalled nominee. Reid has scheduled a cloture vote tonight on the nomination of Robert Groves, head of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, as Census director.

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