Lieberman Declines to Support OIRA Nominee

WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., voted Wednesday against the nomination of John Graham as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Graham?s nomination, however, was approved by the Governmental Affairs Committee by a vote of 9-3. Joining Senator Lieberman were Senators Durbin, D-Ill., and Torricelli, D-N.J. Following are excerpts from Senator Lieberman?s statement, as entered into the record:

…I?ve weighed the evidence carefully. I?ve reviewed Dr. Graham?s history and his extensive record of advocacy and published materials. And I listened carefully to his testimony before the Committee. I am generally inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the President?s nominees. But in this case, my doubts are so persistent, and the nominee?s inclinations are so tilted, that I am not convinced he would be able to appropriately fulfill his responsibilities. In fact, I?m afraid he would contribute to the weakening of government?s protective role in matters of environment, health, and safety. That is why I have decided to oppose Dr. Graham?s nomination.

Among the most essential protective duties government takes on is shielding citizens from dangers from which they cannot protect themselves, such as threats to our national security and violence and disorder at home. But the protective function also includes protecting people from breathing polluted air, drinking poisoned water, eating contaminated food, working under hazardous conditions, being exposed to unsafe consumer products, and falling prey to consumer fraud. This is not big government, it is protective government, and I think it is one of the most publicly supported roles government plays…

OIRA is the gatekeeper of government?s protective role. In recent years, OIRA has reviewed rules proposed by agencies to assess information on risks, costs and benefits before the regulations can go forward. This nominee would continue this traditional role for OIRA. He has charted a more ambitious and, I believe, more influential role, by declaring that he intends to involve himself in the “front end” of the process. I assume this means he will take part in setting priorities and budgets even before an agency has developed its ideas on how to protect the public. It also means he could call upon the agencies to conduct time-consuming and resource-intensive research and analysis before they start developing protections needed under our environmental statutes.

In the hearing on his nomination, Dr. Graham acknowledged his opposition to the assumptions underlying our landmark environmental laws – that every American has a “right” to drink safe water and breathe clean air. Indeed, he has devoted a good part of his career to arguing that those laws misallocate society?s resources, suggesting we should focus more on cost-benefit principles, which take into consideration the bottom line but may sacrifice peoples? right to a clean and healthy environment. He has written generally, for example, that the private sector should not be required to spend as much money as it does on programs to control toxic pollution, that he believes, on average, are less cost-effective than medical or injury-prevention programs.

When it comes to specific measures, Dr. Graham has said society?s resources might be better spent on bicycle helmets or violence prevention programs than on reducing children?s exposure to pesticide residues or on cutting back toxic pollution from oil refineries. Bicycle helmets save lives. And my record is clear on the damage violence does to our society. But the problem is that Dr. Graham?s provocative theorizing fails to answer the question of how to protect the


health of, for instance, the family that lives next to the oil refinery. His rational priority setting may be so rational that it becomes, to those who don?t make it past the cost-benefit analysis, cruel or inhumane.

Because of what the nominee has written and said he is that much more controversial because of the anxiety created by the early actions of the Bush Administration with regard to protective regulations. It began with the so-called Card memo – written by the President?s Chief of Staff, Andrew Card – which delayed a number of protective regulations issued by the Clinton administration. The Card memo was followed by action, such as the administration?s decision to reject the new standard for arsenic in drinking water; its proposal to rescind the rule to make mining companies responsible for toxic waste left at mining sites on public lands; its delay of the rule to protect mine workers against toxic underground pollution; and its proposal to weaken the energy-efficiency rule for central air conditioners.

As a senator reviewing a Presidential nominee and exercising our constitutional advice-and-consent responsibility. I do not consider whether I would have chosen this nominee, because it is not my choice to make. However, it is my responsibility to consider whether the nominee would appropriately fulfill the responsibilities of the office. Where we are dealing with the protective role of government, I approach my responsibility with an extra measure of caution, because the consequences of confirming a nominee who lacks sufficient commitment to protecting the public are real and serious to our people and our principles.

Taking all of these factors into account, I have reached the conclusion that I cannot support Dr. Graham?s nomination. Thank you.

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