Sunstein Confirmed, Some Progressives Still Skeptical

Sunstein was confirmed on Thursday to run OIRA.

Sunstein was confirmed on Thursday to run OIRA.

University of Chicago professor and longtime Obama friend Cass Sunstein was confirmed today by the U.S. Senate, on a 57-40 vote, to serve as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

As Matthew DeLong at The Washington Independent reports:

Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and James Webb (D-Va.) voted against Sunstein. Though he supported cloture for the Harvard law professor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted “no” on Sunstein’s confirmation.

Sen. Lieberman yesterday successfully brought a cloture motion, leading to today’s vote.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Republicans had held up Sunstein’s nomination, it was not met with unbridled enthusiasm from all liberal corners either — as Sanders’ vote shows.  As I reported on multiple occasions, the Center for Progressive Reform had some concerns with the prospect of Sunstein running the regulatory agency.  As scholars with CPR wrote prior to Sunstein’s confirmation hearing:

Once confirmed, Cass Sunstein will face a choice: rely on cost-benefit analysis with the zeal his past writings suggest he would, modify the process in the hope that it can somehow be mended, or abandon it in favor of a better method. The decision he makes will have profound consequences.

Well, now we’ll see.

[UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, CPR is up already with a post from Rena Steinzor, CPR's president:

Having paid careful attention to OIRA over these past few months, in search of evidence of a new outlook, I’m sorry to report that I’ve drawn the strong impression that Bush Administration culture and ideology remain unchanged at OIRA. To deliver change we can believe in, Cass Sunstein needs to convert OIRA from industry waiting room to objective arbiter of inter-agency disputes.

. . . . For years, and especially during the tenure of Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, OIRA has served as a backdoor for regulated industries, giving those aggrieved by agency decisions a second, third, and fourth bite at the apple to press their case. Having failed to persuade Congress of their arguments during the legislative process and then the regulatory agency during their deliberations, industry has found a friendly hearing from OMB, and OMB has too often watered down or scuttled regulations afterwards. But even if OMB staff sit silently at the meetings, giving an audience to industry complainants but not otherwise agreeing to overturn agency decisions, the practice is questionable. As experience in the courts since before the nation was founded has convinced us, only by airing all sides of a dispute through balanced advocacy can a wise decision be made.

. . . . We look forward to working with Cass Sunstein. And we also promise to stay in his face, making sure he remembers that his biggest challenge is to revive strong government protection of environmental quality, food, drug, and worker safety, and the control of climate change, not working to appease industry. We wish him luck and success.

I have no doubt they will "stay in his face."  I think the question is if he will listen.]

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About the Author

Chris Geidner is the award-winning senior political & legal reporter at BuzzFeed and has written for Metro Weekly, The Atlantic Online, The American Prospect,, Salon and other publications, as well as at his blog, Law Dork. He has appeared regularly on television commenting on current affairs, including MSNBC, PBS, HLN & Current. Prior to moving to D.C. in 2009, he served as an attorney on the senior staff at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and had earlier worked for a leading Columbus law firm. An extended biography can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter.