Byrd says Obama administration grabbing too much power

In a letter to the president, the veteran senator says new White House offices "can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances."

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 25, 2009 7:50PM (EST)

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., is worried about a power grab by the Executive Branch -- not one that happened under the Bush administration, but one he believes is going on right now.

On Wednesday, the veteran senator wrote a letter to President Obama in which he criticizes the new administration's use of White House offices and "czars" to do work normally under the purview of officials who have to be confirmed by the Senate.

These new jobs “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," Byrd said, according to Politico.

Byrd's also worried about these positions leading to a lack of transparency. "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," Byrd said. He went on to ask Obama to ensure that "assertions of executive privilege will be made only by the president, or with the president’s specific approval; that senior White House personnel will be limited from exercising authority over any person, any program, and any funding within the statutory responsibility of a Senate-confirmed department or agency head; that the president will be responsible for resolving any disagreement between a Senate-confirmed agency or department head and White House staff; and that the lines of authority and responsibility in the administration will be transparent and open to the American public."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Barack Obama Orrin Hatch R-utah Robert Byrd