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UPDATE: Senate approves Sunstein nomination

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The Senate voted 57-40 Thursday to approve the nomination of Cass Sunstein to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, ending a months-long debate over Sunstein’s writings as a professor and his ideological views.

At least two senators had placed holds on Sunstein’s nomination, due to concerns about his opinions on gun control and animal rights. Sunstein, a Harvard University professor, met with the senators, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and John Cornyn of Texas, and assured them he respected the Second Amendment and would not limit hunting or impose stricter gun control. The holds were then lifted.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on Sunstein’s nomination, limiting time for debate. His nomination was discussed Thursday in between tributes to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., praised Sunstein’s selection on the Senate floor before the Wednesday cloture vote. Lieberman chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which cleared Sunstein’s nomination months ago.

I’m convinced that Professor Sunstein has superior qualifications for this office and a strong commitment, if confirmed, to guide OIRA in conformity with the law and public interest above all.”

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Where's Cass?

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We reported back in January that the president planned to nominate Harvard professor Cass Sunstein to head OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

So where’s his nomination?

The White House’s nominations list doesn’t mention Sunstein. (In fact, if you search for him on the White House Web site, you won’t get any results.) The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee tells me it hasn’t heard a word about Sunstein’s nomination. And the White House hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

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Nudging regulation in the right direction

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One of President-elect Barack Obama’s most interesting nominations is Cass Sunstein, his pick to head OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard University law professor and Barack Obama's pick to head OIRA.

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard University law professor and Barack Obama’s pick to head OIRA.

We’ll profile him in next Monday’s Federal Times — like I did this week with Nancy Killefer, Obama’s new chief performance officer — but a few early thoughts:

Sunstein is a law professor at Harvard University; before that, he taught at the University of Chicago. He’s an old friend of the president-elect from his UChicago teaching days. And he’s written extensively on government regulation, including his most recent book, Nudge.

The book makes the case for what Sunstein calls “libertarian paternalism.” You might think that sounds like an oxymoron. But Sunstein, and his co-author, UChicago professor Richard Thaler, say it offers a “third way,” something between being simply pro- or anti-regulation.

In many domains, including environmental protection, family law, and school choice, we will be arguing that better governance requires less in the way of government coercion and constraint, and more in the way of freedom to choose. If incentives and nudges replace requirements and bans, government will be both smaller and more modest.

So what’s a “nudge”?

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