Another Hold Placed on Sunstein

by Matthew Madia, 7/22/2009

As reported by FoxNews.com this morning, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has placed a hold on Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s pick to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Cornyn’s hold comes just one week after Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) lifted his hold on the nomination.

The new hold all but eliminates the chance that Sunstein will be confirmed by the Senate before Congress’s long summer recess set to begin August 7.

Both Cornyn’s and Chambliss’s holds appear to be for the same reason – Sunstein’s controversial views that animals should enjoy meaningful legal rights including the right to sue. According to FoxNews.com, “Cornyn's spokesman said the senator will be happy when he gets direct assurances from Sunstein that he will not pursue an agenda akin to some of his past writings, particularly on the animal rights issue.”

Sunstein has already provided such assurances to other senators, including Chambliss, all of whom have been satisfied with their conversations with the nominee. Sunstein’s position as OIRA administrator would not imbue in him the authority to give animals the right to sue. OIRA is the White House office responsible for overseeing federal agencies’ regulatory activity. The office reviews and sometimes edits the text of regulations, and it approves government forms and surveys that require the public to divulge information.

Ironically, while Sunstein has provided clarity on his views on animal rights, an issue not often of consequence to OIRA, he has been less forthcoming about how he would operate OIRA on a day-to-day basis. During his confirmation hearing and in response to questions submitted to the nominee by the committee prior to the hearing, Sunstein avoided specifics about what he would like to see changed about the rulemaking process.

For example, when asked, "Do you believe that OIRA should be an activist office, steering regulation in particular directions?" Sunstein sidestepped the question, writing, "I believe that OIRA has a role to play in promoting compliance with the law and with the President’s commitments and priorities – and that it can do so in a manner fully consistent with its mission."

The mystery is unsettling for many members of traditional liberal constituencies, who fear that Sunstein may seek to vest too much power in OIRA or apply cost-benefit tests too rigorously. From FoxNews.com:

"We have concerns about some of his academic writings regarding his approach to regulatory policy and regulatory review," Bill Samuel, AFL-CIO legislative director, told The Chicago Tribune. "We want to hear more from him about how he intends to approach regulatory policy." 


Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal editorial board, a conservative bastion in the media, praised President Obama for nominating Sunstein.

The Fox News article sums it up well: “[B]eing taken for both a liberal activist and a free market cheerleader makes the nominee a true ‘wild card,’ observers say.”

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