Friday, February 27, 2009

Robert Byrd Fears "King" OBama

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) is something of an institution in Washington, DC. He assumed the office of US Senator in 1959 and has served in that body longer than anyone in the nation's history. He is famous for his knowledge of Senate proceedings and is one of the most successful members of either House of Congress at "bringing home the pork" for his constituents. He has been a liberal champion of big government for years.

On the surface, he should be a huge fan of President Barack Obama. The federal budget up to 2008 was $2.7 trillion dollars. As a Senator in September of 2008 and as a President in January, Obama has increased that spending by over $1.5 trillion. It is the biggest growth of government in such a time frame in our nation's history.

Byrd's concerns about Obama are not the President's love for more spending, but how he intends to control that spending and the operations of government. In a surprising series of events, Byrd has written a letter to Obama condemning the massive shift of power from the Cabinet officials who are accountable to Congress to White House staff who are largely free from such scrutiny.

In a press release by the Senator, his office states that "Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.... has written to President Barack Obama expressing his concerns over the increasing appointments of White House 'czars,' and the relationship between these new White House positions and their executive branch counterparts, noting that 'too often, I have seen these lines of authority and responsibility become tangled and blurred, sometimes purposely, to shield information and to obscure the decision-making process."

The release continues that "Byrd, in his February 23 letter, specifically referenced the creation of new White House Offices of Health Reform, Urban Affairs Policy, and Energy and Climate Change Policy, noting that 'the rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials. As presidential assistants and advisers, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials, and to virtually anyone but the president. They rarely testify before congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability,' Byrd’s letter continued."

Essentially holding Obama's own words against him, Byrd cited the President "recent memorandum to the executive departments and agencies in which Obama noted that, 'A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.'"

This kind of public criticism by a Senator of a President isn't unusual. What is unusual is the Senator who is attacking this particular President and the seriousness of the charges. In the letter itself, Byrd describes Obama's approach as similar to the Nixon White House in terms of its secrecy and isolation from Congressional accountability. Those are "fighting words" among Democrats.

I have never been a fan of Robert Byrd, but he is certainly very correct in his concerns and assessment. While people continue to worry about the "Europization" of the United States under Obama, I'm more concerned that we are looking more like Venezuela and other regimes that have suspended constitutional law and that he changes the way we are governed. The policy approaches of Obama may not be as nearly as frightening as his approach to government.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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