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Is Senator Gregg a Good Pick for Commerce? February 6, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics, President Obama, Secretary of Commerce.
Tags: , , , , ,

 President Obama this week nominated Senator Judd A. Gregg for the Secretary of Commerce post. Senator Gregg has a long history of public service.  He served eight years in the House, two terms as Governor of New Hampshire, and has served in the Senate since 1993.  His credentials are impressive.  He has been on numerous Subcommittees, is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, and chaired the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the last session.  He has a long history in Washington and many friends, particularly in the Republican Party.  According to the Washington Post, he has a reputation as “a tough negotiator, a deficit hawk and an independent-minded conservative.” 

President Obama adds that he is an “able and persuasive voice for industry who makes it known that America is open for business.”  And this may be true.  But this is not his only charge.

 According to the Commerce Department’s website, the mission Senator Gregg will take on is to:

  1. Participate with other Government agencies to create national policy.
  2. Promote & assist international trade.
  3. Strengthen the international economic position of the US
  4. Promote progressive domestic business policies & growth.
  5. Improve comprehension & uses of the environment & its oceanic life.
  6. Ensure effective use & growth of the Nation’s scientific & technical resources.
  7. Assist states, communities & individuals with economic progress.
  8. Acquire, analyze & disseminate information regarding the Nation & economy to help achieve increased social & economic benefit.

In considering his nomination I was struck by the maneuvering around his nomination and some of positions on the issues.  How well does he fit with President Obama’s claimed new way of doing politics?  And how well will he pursue his mission?  Even the parts of it that he doesn’t support?

 Bipartisanship. President Obama says his is an administration of bipartisanship and that Senator Gregg has a reputation of working across party lines.  Senator Gregg said, “This is not a time for partisanship.”  But this is a pretty partisan guy.  In the last legislative session, according to The Nation, he voted with his party 83% of the time.  And that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Since January 2008, he has voted at odds with his party 57 times. But he wasn’t reaching across the aisle, showing a spirit of bipartisanship.  Rather, 27 out of 57 times, he voted at odds with Republicans AND Democrats.  Nearly all these votes all involved the passage, renewal, or amendment of bills related to spending.  Important to people who care about these things, he voted against both parties even to spend to protect families vulnerable to foreclosure due to sudden loss of income, or to allow a certain flexibility in the application of grants for Hurricane Katrina victims, or to provide grants and tax credits to promote the development of accelerate the commercialization of biofuels (part of his job is to promote science and technology). 

 A New, Ethical Way of Doing Politics.  President Obama told us we’ve entered a new era of politics, with tighter ethical standards and a commitment to keep everything above board.  But this claim is not reflected in the maneuverings surrounding his appointment of Senator Gregg to Commerce. 

 It is the Governor’s prerogative to choose a replacement for any Senator from their state who leaves the Senate before the end of his or her term.   And Governors customarily name a member of their own party to fill the seat.  Not here. Now, Governors should not sell the seat or choose a replacement based on a more subtle quid pro quo. But nor should they be coerced in their choice.  Yet Senator Gregg conditioned his acceptance of the nomination on New Hampshire’s Governor, John Lynch, appointing a Republican to fill his Senate seat.  And, as it ends up, the Governor ‘decided’ to appoint Bonnie Newman, Judd’s Chief of Staff from his days in the House. President Obama, saying only that putting Gregg at Commerce was more important than increasing the Democratic majority, acquiesced and Governor Lynch knew his president was asking.  As Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold told The Nation, “The apparent behind-the-scenes deal-making that went on to determine who will fill Senator Gregg’s vacancy is alarmingly undemocratic.”

 Transparency.  The president says he believes transparency in government is an obligation and a good.  Senator Gregg doesn’t seem to share the sentiment.  Project Vote Smart, an important organization for voters seeking information about candidates, collects data on candidates for office.  It has for several years sent elected officials a “Political Courage Test.”  The “test” simply lists a relatively short list of the issues of most concern to Americans that will likely come up in the year’s legislative session and asks, “Are you willing to tell citizens your positions on the issues you will likely face on their behalf?” 

Senator Gregg has refused year after year to respond, even after being urged to do so by Senator John McCain and a handful of other present and past legislators.  He hasn’t told us where he stands on International Trade Policy, on Environmental Issues, on Budgetary, Spending and Tax issues (though we know he strongly favors low spending and low taxes), on Governmental Reform, or on Employment, Education or Health policy.  Since these will all be considerations in his work at Commerce, he should explain his positions on important issues, giving citizens the opportunity for an informed opinion that they might wish to share with their Senator as Gregg comes up for confirmation hearings.

Promoting Minority Businesses.  Whether Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency will work hard to promote the growth of minority owned businesses is also an open question.  His record on the advancement of minority interests is poor.

 According to Project Vote Smart, between 2000 and 2007, Senator Gregg has supported the interests of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) 11% of the time and those of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 10.1% of the time. 

 Between 2000 and 2004, he supported the interests of the League of United Latin American Citizens 21% of the time, and in 2005, the only year for which they have data, he supported the National Council of La Raza 0% of the time. 

 According to Glenn Thrush at Politico, the Democratic Black Caucus members and Latino legislatures are displeased with President Obama’s choice and are airing their concerns about Senator Gregg’s fitness.  It will be interesting to see if they press the issue in his confirmation hearings.

 Senator Gregg, if confirmed, as he surely will be, should ensure fairness in the inclusion of minority owned business in the Administration’s stimulus package and in the larger goal of rebuilding the economy.  As he assumes his new post, his Minority Business Development Agency’s National Director slot is empty.  He should choose someone who has a strong record of promoting minority owned businesses.

 Census. As Congresswoman Barbara Lee said at Politico, “Two of the most important responsibilities of the Commerce Department are to ensure that minority-owned businesses are fully integrated in our nation’s economic recovery and to conduct the decennial census.” 

Yet as Johnathan Allan at CQ Politics noted in Gregg Voted to Kill Commerce Before He Agreed to Lead It, Senator Gregg also voted to cut the department’s funding by $960 billion in a non-binding resolution to set legislative priorities and, in 2000, he stood opposed to President’s Clinton’s request for a budget increase to fund that year’s census.”

 Congreswoman Lee went on to say, “Sen. Gregg’s “…attempts to block President Bill Clinton’s efforts to secure adequate funding for the 2000 census raise troubling concerns regarding his commitment to the department’s core missions.  As the Census Bureau prepares for another count in 2010, it is important to ensure the census is fully funded to guarantee a thorough and fair counting of all Americans.”  

Cencus data provides crucial information about education, health insurance, the labor force, computer ownership and use, the elderly, immigration, households and families, Hispanic origin, poverty and many other policy concerns.  Senator Gregg’s fight against it’s funding, and his consistent ‘no’ votes on spending bills to address the above- mentioned policy issues, suggests this might not be high on his priority list. 

 Protecting the Interests of Workers in Rebuilding the Economy.  He is a friend of business.  The Chamber of Commerce says he has supported their interests 84% of the time from 2003 through 2007. 

He is a foe of labor.  According to Rachel Maddow, the AFL/CIO gives him a lifetime rating of 4%.  He voted against the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, legislation promoting the right of workers to form unions – and strongly supported by the AFL/CIO.

 And he’s not been so kind to unorganized employees either.  The National Employment Lawyers Association gives Senator Gregg a 0% approval rating based on his support for their interests, e.g. advocating on behalf of employees with claims arising under the Labor Code.  And just this year he voted against the Lili Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which, “… extends the time period in which victims of discrimination can challenge and recover for discriminatory compensation decisions or other practices…”

 In rebuilding the economy, the administration should give more voice to our workforce.  It should make a serious effort to promote the economic interests of workers and to lower the number of the working poor over the longer term. 


Given his opposition to the department and to funding for the census, his failure to disclose his positions to his constituents, his conservative voting record, and his lack of support of interests he will be called on to promote, the question remains whether he’s best suited for this post if we are to rebuild our economy with an eye toward Promoting progressive domestic business policies & growth” and “Assisting states, communities & individuals with economic progress.

And the demands upon his Governor leave questions about the seriousness of a new day in politics. 

I look forward to Senator Gregg’s openness during his confirmation hearings.




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[…] Is Senator Judd a Good Pick for Commerce? « Perfecting Our Union […]

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