Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cass Sunstein Grilled By Congressional Republicans In McCarthy-esque Hearings

With Republican gains from last years elections, it was only a matter of time before they started calling in their political targets for scheduled hearings, and what better target then Cass Sunstein -the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), more affectionatly known by the right as the "regulatory czar."

An article by David Weigel for Slate illustrates just why the GOP hearings are nothing but a witch hunt - Sunstein's responses were logical and the questioners had no clue as to what they were asking Sunstein.
"When the Department of Interior came out with the moratorium on drilling," asked Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., "did you review that?"

"No," said Sunstein. "That wasn't a regulatory action within the meaning of Order 12866," the executive order that allows Sunstein's office to review draft regulations.

Scalise tried again. "At least it wasn't your feeling that it wasn't?"

"No," said Sunstein. "It doesn't fit within the definition of a significant regulatory action."
This is interesting when considering Scalise's response to the presidents State of the Union address:
If the President is really serious, he’ll join with Republicans and support our plans to create jobs and cut reckless Washington spending, and he can start by issuing permits so people can get back to work drilling safely in the Gulf for domestic energy.
Wouldn't you be the slightest concerned with the fact that Scalise is questioning the wrong person about some government regulation?  That would make me question Scalise's comprehension of the regulation itself.  Scalise is only making an issue out of this so it looks like he is tough on "anti-oil" regulation.

Scalise wasn't the only one to get their facts wrong - Texas' Joe Barton also couldn't stump Sunstein:
"There has been an explosion of regulation and regulations issued in the first years of the Obama administration," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex. "Quite frankly, I didn't see that your organization has done anything to slow this down. I don't see that you've done anything to do what the new executive order says."

"If I may discuss the idea of explosion," said Sunstein. "The number of regulations issued in the last two years is approximately the same as the number issued in the last two years of the Bush administration."

This was a bit much for Barton. "Just the regulations issued under the new health care law are in the thousands!" he said.

"The number that have been issued in the last months are not in the thousands," said Sunstein. "In terms of finalized economically significant rules, I don't think the data supports the claim—"

"Well, what's the answer to the question?" snapped Barton. "Is this new executive order going to require a determination by your group, your agency, of the net job gain or loss of past, current, and new regulations?"

"We will be focusing very much on job loss as a result of regulation."

"So the answer is yes?"

"Well, there are some technical reasons. It's complicated."

"So the answer is no?"

"Well, I'm afraid that the answer to this one, uniquely thus far, is neither yes nor no."

"Well," said an exasperated Barton, who had warned the room that he was late for a radio interview, "that's a very evasive answer. The president is going to give you an A-plus for evading a straight yes-or-no question."
Sunstein was not being evasive, as Barton insisted - Barton did not aska  simple "yes-or-no question" and was unhappy when Sunstein did not fall into his trap.  Barton was probably more concerned with getting a juicy answer so he can gossip about it with whoever he was interviewing that day.
On talk radio, it's assumed that Sunstein's writings on free speech and conspiracy theories have revealed his plans to silence critics. But no one successfully needled Sunstein over the claims and arguments he'd made in his academic work. "My academic writing isn't relevant to my job," he said, after Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., attempted to nail him down on whether he'd regulate the Internet—a major cause of talk radio and Glenn Beckian panic. "I'm on the record opposing the fairness doctrine."

Freshman Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., tried to broaden the inquiry. "What am I supposed to tell my constituents," he asked, "when they come to me and say 'These regulations are costing me jobs?'"

"There are two sets of concerns," said Sunstein. "One is about fear of what's coming. One is trouble caused by what's there."

"So they're just fearful?"

"No, that's not all," said Sunstein. "I'm just using your words. There is a legitimate fear that regulation can be harmful."

Gardner prodded Sunstein to commit, "in this time of economic crisis," not to defend any regulation that cost any job. He demanded a yes-or-no answer.

"A yes answer would be preposterous," said Sunstein. "If there's a regulation that's saving 10,000 lives and costing one job, it's worth it."
This last excerpt makes me think - just why exactly are Gardner's constituents fearful of regulation?  Who is putting that idea out there?

It is funny that these legislators issue these yes-or-no demands for questions with complex answers.  Sunstein's responses were excellent, and so the right will most likely move onto their next target to find some sort of damning response.


  1. The Republicans completely miss the point of the 2010 elections. They were elected because of the unemployment rate and it was an off year election. However, the bozos from their right wing who were elected actually believe in their own nonsense. As a result, when they are confronted by an individual with the facts, they are made to look like fools. Case in point, federal regulations. Where would this country have been if we had regulations had been passed regarding derivatives based upon sub-prime mortgages?

  2. I really don't know much about Sunstein (apart from what I read in all the right-wing blogs), but based on his responses, and from what I've read about today, he appears to be extremely knowledgeable and logical. I prefer that over some guy who went on a church retreat with the president so he must be good for the job (or in Sarah Palin's case, a high school buddy).

    When I read about the low amounts of appointments made by Obama when compared to his predecessors, I can't help but wonder if that is in part of a more detailed vetting process. It also makes me wonder what the alternative would have been, and if McCain would have given his appointments much thought, or just used the same process he used for Palin...


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