Spending bill amendment takes aim at 'czars'
Proposal comes as Republicans have escalated their criticism of the Obama administration for appointing more than 30 czars.
Lawmakers have filed more than 20 amendments to the $32.1 billion fiscal 2010 Interior-Environment appropriations bill, including a proposal from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that would prohibit any of the bill's funds from being used to carry out directives from the White House climate change czar.
The amendment will ensure the climate czar is not directing actions of the departments and agencies funded in the bill, Vitter said.
The amendment comes as Republicans have escalated their criticism of the Obama administration for appointing more than 30 czars, also known as policy coordinators. Republicans say some of these appointees play a large role in crafting and implementing policy and should have to stand for Senate confirmation like the heads of most federal agencies.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Thursday the czars are "an affront to the Constitution" and "anti-democratic."
"It is a poor example of what was promised to be a new era of transparency," he said in remarks on the floor. "It is a poor way to manage the government."
Alexander and five other Republicans, including Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins, signed a letter Monday asking President Obama to refrain from naming more czars. They also want information on the responsibilities of 18 officials they believe are "undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress or express statutory assignments of responsibility to other executive branch officials," Alexander said.
Democrats countered this week that former President George W. Bush's administration included 47 policy czars, yet there was no Republican outcry.
But the Vitter amendment might win some Democratic support. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., raised similar concerns this week in a letter to Obama, and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., wrote the White House on the issue in February.
Other amendments to the Interior-Environment bill include 16 from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., most of which seek to strip earmarks.
McCain targeted $500,000 for a Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program and $500,000 for a National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii sought by Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye; as well as $300,000 for drinking water improvements in Quincy, Ill., requested by Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
McCain also wants to cut wastewater and drinking water infrastructure funding for rural and Alaskan native villages from $15 million to $10 million.
The Senate will resume consideration of the bill next week, with votes on amendments expected Tuesday.