By Sam Youngman - 09/16/09 07:59 PM EDT
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs fired back at GOP critics of White House czars on Wednesday.
Gibbs said GOP “silence was deafening” on the issue of czars during former President George W. Bush's administration.
“You've read Sen. Bennett was pushing for a Y2K czar that he didn't think was powerful enough,” Gibbs said. “You've seen Lamar Alexander call for a manufacturing czar."
He also brought up the name of Randall Tobias, a Bush administration deputy secretary of State and “abstinence czar” who resigned after it was discovered his name was on a prostitution-services call list.
“You know, somebody referred to in the Bush administration as the abstinence czar was on the D.C. Madam's list,” Gibbs said. “Now, did that violate the Constitution, or simply offend our sensibilities?”
Alexander released a statement firing back at Gibbs. He said he'd
always made it clear that administrations have had a few czars, but
said the Obama administration's 18 czars are too much.
"The White House should spend less time misrepresenting others’ views and more time answering legitimate questions from Senators Collins, Bennett, myself and others: What are these new czars’ authorities and responsibilities? How are they being vetted? How will they be accountable to Congress?,” Alexander said.
Republicans have criticized the president’s use of White House staff to press forward on various policies. Obama has so-called czars charged with healthcare, manufacturing and Middle Easy policy. The officials do not go through a Senate confirmation process, which has led to charges that that process undermines the balance of powers.
Bennett wrote a letter to Obama this week “expressing serious concern” about the administration's use of the czars.
“The president's decision to expand the executive branch and bypass Cabinet officers with a group of presidential assistants given the title of 'czars' undermines the Constitution,” Bennett said in a statement. “I think Congress needs to start asking whether the president's action to create these 'czars,' many of which are not subject to senatorial confirmation, is an attempt to negate Congress's right of oversight.”
Previous administrations, including George W. Bush’s, also made heavy use of czars, a point Gibbs made on Wednesday. He said the staff appointments have been made where “there may be policy coordination between many different departments in order to make governmental responses more efficient.”
He said the new dust-up, which was largely sparked by the resignation of green jobs czar Van Jones, was pure political posturing.
“I think what the American people would like every branch of government to do is get about dealing with the problems that real people have each and every day, rather than playing political games back and forth, day after day, and not solving or addressing their problems,” Gibbs said.
This story was updated at 6:25 p.m.