Democrats defeated a GOP amendment that would have eliminated the salaries of President Obama's top energy and climate "czar" Carol Browner along with other environmental officials as part of a sweeping Financial Services appropriations bill the House approved yesterday.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) offered the amendment, which would prohibit any funding in the fiscal 2010 Financial Services bill from paying the salaries of Browner and her deputy, Heather Zichal, as well as anyone in the Council on Environmental Quality.
"We do not need and should not have czars," Broun said on the House floor yesterday. "The last time I checked, only pre-Communist Russia had czars, and we are most certainly not in Russia."
Broun said the "czars" are able to act without any congressional oversight to provide a check on their actions. "This is about transparency and accountability," he said. "Congress has the authority and the responsibility to oversee the administration and we're not doing our job frankly."
He also said Browner and the other environmental officials targeted in this amendment are an example of the broader problem, noting that the administration has more than 30 such positions throughout the government. He also criticized Browner's stance on climate change, saying she and the others do not factor in the opinions of those who dispute that human actions are causing global warming.
Democrats criticized Broun's motives in introducing the amendment. Calling it "vindictive," "mischievous" and "ill-conceived," lawmakers rejected it 149-282, with 27 Republicans joining the Democrats to defeat it. The overall bill, H.R. 3170, passed 219-208.
Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, said Broun was reaching beyond his jurisdiction by essentially trying to fire White House officials.
Added Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.): "I do support the right of this president or any president to establish positions in his or her own White House. That's his prerogative, his right."
And Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) defended Browner, saying he is "very comforted" knowing that she is serving Obama given her previous experience serving as EPA administrator and that the other officials also bring extensive knowledge and experience to their jobs. Dicks also suggested that Broun, a climate skeptic, was trying to "hobble" efforts to mitigate climate change.
The amendment came as a part of a bigger push by some Republicans to negate Obama's decision to hire policy "czars."
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) offered an amendment during the Appropriations Committee markup this week that would have prohibited any funding from the bill going toward the salaries of any of Obama's czars, or people who were appointed to top advisory positions without Senate confirmation. His amendment failed by voice vote. He also this week announced separate legislation to withhold salaries from any "czar" not confirmed by the Senate (E&E Daily, July 16).
CPSC gets $118M
Meanwhile, lawmakers approved by voice vote a manager's amendment from Serrano that, among other changes, would boost funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to $118 million, an increase of almost $5 million from what H.R. 3170 originally called for. That would be $13 million more than the commission received in fiscal 2009 and $11 million more than Obama requested.
The commission has struggled in recent years with inadequate resources, a fact that was highlighted in 2007 in the wake of massive toy and other consumer product recalls. In response, lawmakers passed sweeping consumer legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support last year, and the report language accompanying the bill directs the commission to use the added resources to implement that act.
The Senate is also working toward approval of a spending bill for CPSC, with the Appropriations Committee last week easily approving $115 million for the commission.
GSA's green building provisions
The bill's General Services Administration funding includes $20 million for Federal "High-Performance Green Buildings." The funding will help implement provisions in a major 2007 energy law aimed at improving the efficiency and environmental performance of federal buildings. The spending bill also provides $20 million for "Energy and Water Retrofit and Conservation Measures" for federal buildings.
The recent stimulus law already steers $4.5 billion for converting GSA facilities into "high-performance green buildings."
Elsewhere, the fiscal 2010 appropriations bill provides $1.5 million to fund a "comprehensive carbon audit" of the U.S. tax code. Last year's Wall Street bailout legislation called on the Treasury Department to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to "identify the types of and specific tax provisions that have the largest effects on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions and to estimate the magnitude of those effects."
Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed.