The U.S. Department of Commerce, according to its mission statement, is responsible for "job creation, economic growth, and improved standards of living for all Americans." Its jurisdiction is wide-ranging, from trade to economic development and the regulation of technology.
Unfortunately, Commerce has been without a leader since June 21, when John Bryson, the 37th secretary of commerce, resigned. We have heard a lot from President Obama about raising taxes, health care reform, Republican obstructionism and controversial nominees for Cabinet posts that currently are filled. However, we have not heard much from him about whom he plans to nominate to lead the agency tasked with implementing important policies that affect American workers and businesses every day. Coincidentally, this is the only agency without a leader in Mr. Obama's Cabinet. It is unfortunate that the American people have been left to rely on vague media reports detailing conversations the president may have had with candidates who won't confirm or deny they spoke with him. If the president thinks the Commerce Department is a serious agency, it is time for him to get serious about filling this vacancy with a qualified candidate.
America's economy is in a delicate state. Unemployment has remained stubbornly high at around 8 percent for the past several years. The U.S. trade deficit in September was measured at $41.5 billion -- more than $10 billion higher than it was two years earlier, in September 2000 -- and our nation's industrial production has been stagnant. These indicators, taken in concert with each passing day edging us closer to the "fiscal cliff," should serve as not-so-subtle reminders to the president that now, more than ever, is the time for decisive leadership, both at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and at the Commerce Department.
The American business sector needs a secretary of commerce who can help create the consistency needed to create jobs domestically and give businesses the assurance needed to take risks, expand operations and make investments in capital. Our government doesn't need a "secretary of business," as the president suggested recently during his campaign. Our government needs a commerce secretary, someone who can bring to bear significant experience in the business world and serve as the chief advocate in Washington for business owners. We need someone who can help bureaucrats and many in Congress understand that patchwork fixes are not the answer but part of the problem. We need a leader who will create policies encouraging job creators, fixing unemployment, creating a trade surplus and jump-starting manufacturing and industrial production.
One of the best parts of my job is the privilege of meeting with leaders in business, both small and large, from all over Omaha, Neb., and the United States. While the actual businesses come in all shapes and sizes, a few common themes often are present.
Most of these people have worked hard their entire lives to build something they can call their own. Many of them are not rich. When I ask these business owners what they need from their representatives in Washington, "consistency" usually is part of their answer. These leaders, who represent every community across our great land, say that without consistency they cannot expand or create more jobs.
We need this consistency for American businesses. By expeditiously nominating a qualified candidate for secretary of commerce, someone who is committed to growing our economy and working with both Republicans and Democrats on pro-growth, pro-business policies, we can get back on a path to repairing our economy.
Rep. Lee Terry is a Nebraska Republican.