Senate Panel Clears Sunstein for OIRA
by Matthew Madia, 5/20/2009
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the nomination of Cass Sunstein to be administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The nomination will now head to the full Senate for a vote.
As discussed in an article in the Watcher, OMB Watch’s e-newsletter, Sunstein’s May 12 nomination hearing clarified some of his positions on regulatory policy issues, particularly cost-benefit analysis. Sunstein responded to committee members during the hearing and completed a lengthy questionnaire in advance of the hearing.
But Sunstein has sidestepped questions on OIRA’s review authority. Before proposing or finalizing any regulation, agencies must submit their plans to OIRA for review. OIRA often asks for edits or changes to the regulations. If it really doesn’t like a regulation, OIRA can reject it.
Sunstein has pledged to work collaboratively with rulemaking agencies and said that irreconcilable disputes should be arbitrated by the President or Vice President (as required by current executive order).
But the day-to-day interactions between OIRA and agencies have historically fallen somewhere in between collaboration and conflict resolution. OIRA questions agency assumptions and conclusions, edits language in draft regulations, and sometimes serves as a conduit for opponents of regulation to transmit complaints. In these cases, would Sunstein tend to defer to agencies’ judgments?
Of the Committee members present, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) lodged the only vote against Sunstein. Coburn did not discuss his concerns with the nominee, but I’m guessing he objects to Sunstein’s views on legal rights for animals.
When a Senator votes against a nominee in committee, that’s usually an indication that his or her objections are severe. There’s a chance that Coburn’s opposition could slow Sunstein’s confirmation if he decides to put a hold on the nomination. (In perhaps the only Senate rule more asinine than unlimited debate, any Senator may indefinitely postpone a vote on a nominee or bill for no good reason and without explanation.)
Sunstein is a respected law professor currently at Harvard Law School. Before Harvard, Sunstein taught at University of Chicago, where he became friends with President Obama. He has written extensively on regulatory policy and information issues.