Senate Republicans and Democrats said Tuesday they want to see more jobs and fewer federal regulations from President Obama’s nominee to head the Commerce Department.
“We talk about jobs, but nothing is happening,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R.-Maine). “And this regulatory rampage, that has to cease and desist as well.”
But even with commitments from nominee John Bryson to do both, Republicans threatened to block his confirmation until the White House moves forward on trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
“The reason President Obama reached out to me was my business experience, and it is absolutely clear that is what he wants from me as secretary of commerce,” Bryson said.
“The private sector is where the jobs need to be developed. We have to address that,” Bryson said.
Bryson has extensive experience in business—he served as CEO of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison, and as a director of the Boeing Company, Walt Disney Company and Coda Automotive.
But it’s his relationship with a controversial environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense, which troubles panel Republicans.
Bryson had little to say about his co-founding of the litigious group, except that “a lot has happened since that took place.”
Instead, Bryson tried to focus on his experience dealing with overregulation while he ran Edison.
“In 2001 and 2002, there was an extraordinary energy crisis in California. It was the single toughest challenge I ever faced, and we kept the lights on during impossible circumstances,” Bryson said.
“I learned a lot about regulations. Businesses in our country are too often stifled by absolutely unnecessary cumbersome regulations and unnecessary regulatory costs and delays. If confirmed, I will be a voice in the administration for simplifying regulations and eliminating those where the cost of regulations exceeds the benefits,” Bryson said.
In nominating Bryson, Obama said his pick would play a key role on his economic team and provide valuable ideas and initiatives to strengthen America’s competitiveness around the world.
“He understands what it takes for America to succeed in a 21st century global economy,” Obama said when he nominated Bryson on May 31.
“John will be an important part of my economic team, working with the business community, fostering growth, and helping open up new markets abroad to promote jobs and opportunities here at home,” Obama said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) said Bryson would be a strong advocate for business, and panel chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va) called him “a gift to this country.”
“This administration needs your voice much more than it realizes,” Rockefeller said.
However, Republicans expressed some skepticism that Bryson would ease regulations and tax burdens to give businesses a needed boost.
“We are not going to tax or regulate our way out of this economic downturn,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R.-Tex.).
“We need a commerce advocate in this country,” added Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.). “The last thing we are doing at the federal level is encouraging commerce.”
As one example of excessive overreach by the government, Republicans cited the decision by the National Labor Relations Board to sue Boeing to block a new plant in South Carolina, which is a right-to-work state. Bryson, who served on the board of Boeing when the decision was made to move the plant to South Carolina, said the government was wrong to interfere.
“We thought we were doing the right thing for the country,” Bryson said.