The Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday for Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein to head the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) was noncontroversial, cordial, positive, and ran less than an hour. OIRA is the key office that the White House uses to bring consistency and efficiency to executive branch rulemaking, and in Republican Administrations has been seen as an office that helps rein in regulatory-happy agencies.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I[D]-CT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, ran the hearing with ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine also in attendance. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) stopped by, and Sunstein was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a former law student of his at the University of Chicago. Lieberman concluded the hearing by saying he supported Sunstein's confirmation.
A source we respect highlights the key regulatory discussion points:
Sunstein mentioned that in his short tenure at Harvard he started a program on risk regulation that he was particularly proud of. He mentioned that much of his work has focused on transparency, information disclosure, and aggregation of information through the internet - and emphasized that sometimes citizens have more information than the agency experts in Washington. He mentioned his work on behavioral economics generally. He described his 3 tasks when reviewing regulation as 1) What are Congress' instructions, 2) What are the President's policy priorities in this area, and 3) "look before you leap" - review what you are doing and what effect it may have. Among the challenges he felt the country was facing that required this review were homeland security and the financial crisis (although questioned were asked about independent agencies later, no one picked up on this emphasis on financial matters).
Indeed, Collins prompted a discussion about OIRA review of regulations from independent agencies, but no clarity resulted.
The only hint of controversy came in Collins' inquiring about Sunstein's supposed desire to ban hunting and give rights to animals, hot button topics at some Second Amendment/hunting advocacy sites. Sunstein pledged to Collins that he would not use OIRA to ban hunting, and the concern about that topic came from a small remark in a speech on a different topic. He said he was a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and regards hunters and fishermen as some of the strongest conservationists.
As far as legal rights for animals, Sunstein explained that he was making what he thought was a boring argument about extending private party litigation rights to the enforcement of state animal anti-cruelty laws like in the Endangered Species Act, but he would not be involved in that at OIRA and that it sounded worse than what he was really describing.
- Wall Street Journal, "Businesses Encouraged by Regulatory Nominee"
- Forbes op-ed, "Cass Sunstein For Regulation Czar," by Richard L. Revesz, dean of New York University School of Law, and Michael A. Livermore, executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law.
- Statement by OMB Watch.