Originally published by the Journal of Commerce in October 2011.
As this column goes to print, we are about a year away from the 2012 Presidential election, and it is obvious that partisanship has yet again gotten in the way of productivity. No, this not going to be a commentary about the chaos among Republican wanna-bes. Rather, this column is about the apparent pigheadedness occurring on Capital Hill.
Let’s start with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In March 2010, President Obama made 15 recess appointments, among them Alan D. Bersin for CBP Commissioner. As Commissioner, Mr. Bersin is subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. However, the President was not willing to wait while the Senate continued to diddle, so Mr. Bersin was appointed without being confirmed. Those of us vocal on issues under CBP’s jurisdiction have from time-to-time disagreed with Mr. Bersin’s priorities and proposals, but whether we agree with him or not, he has stood up and forcefully led the agency. There is no requirement that we agree with him on every point, but, like his ideas or not, the agency need strong leadership and we have to be willing to admit, he is providing it.
Every indication is Senators in one party will not allow Mr. Bersin’s nomination to be considered. This has nothing to do with his qualifications and apparently everything to do with ego. A few arrogant Senators decided they did not like the fact Mr. Bersin was installed as CBP Commissioner without first being confirmed. Never mind that he is well-qualified and his nomination was announced in September 2009 but not much was done with it by the Senate for six (6) months. How does it make sense for the agency to be without a permanent head when it is at the forefront of protecting the homeland, interdicting drugs, stopping pornography and currency crimes, while also meeting its twin goal of facilitating legitimate trade and tourism? If the Senate did not want him, just vote him down. How is any of this in the bests interests of the country, never mind the agency?
Another recess appointment was Eric L. Hirschhorn as Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration. In that position, he heads the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at the Dept. of Commerce. Unlike Mr. Bersin’s nomination, the Senate Banking Committee has twice unanimously approved Mr. Hirschhorn’s nomination. The last step in the process is a floor vote, but none is in sight. While there is a lot of disagreement between the parties about how international trade should be expanded and/or regulated, on both sides of the aisle there seems to be agreement that increasing the amount of goods exported is a good thing. It sells American products worldwide and increases jobs at home. Can’t we at least agree that reforming U.S. export license controls so international companies do not design around quality American products, makes good sense? Why no vote on Mr. Hirschhorn’s nomination?
Whereas the role of the head of BIS or CBP is easily understood, the Under Secretary for International Trade at the Dept. of Commerce is a mystery to most, if they have even heard of the post. In a nutshell, the Under Secretary helps American companies navigate doing business throughout the world. Francisco Sánchez is the recess appointee for this position. He, too, is eminently qualified having had leading positions in both government and the private sector. Like Mr. Bersin, Mr. Sanchez’s nomination has not made it out of Committee. Given that expansion of business opportunities throughout the world should be a no brainer for both sides of the aisle as a means of economic growth, why the hold up on this nomination?
The last trade nominee to be mentioned in this column is Islam A. Dissiqui, who was proposed by Mr. Obama as Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Mr. Dissiqui was formerly a lobbyist for Monsanto (he is referred to in some quarters as a “pesticide” lobbyist) and so the hold-up of his nomination over questions about his commitment to environmental protection issues seem substantively related to the duties of the position to which he was nominated. Whether or not you agree those concerns are well-founded, they at least make some common sense, but here again, why not vote the person down and allow the President to move on to another candidate? Why does Mr. Obama allow these nominations to linger?
Some will say the delay was caused by dealing with the budget, health care, the debt limit and other significant economic issues, and yes, a few social ones as well. Having said that, surely the Senate has intelligent members who are able to multi-task like the rest of us? At a time when taking steps to bring greater health to the American economy and so creating jobs is said to be a major goal of both parties, isn’t it time to call our Senators to account? Why are they playing games with America’s economic health? Could it possibly be that one side of the aisle will do anything it thinks necessary in its attempt to make Obama a one term President? Is the other side of the aisle so tongue-tied as to be unable to overcome the gamesmanship? Or perhaps the other side of the aisle is playing its own version of gamesmanship? Are the two sides so at odds that compromise is impossible on even basic issues short or bringing the government to the brink of closing down?
Has American politics gotten so partisan that all votes are taken based on the perception by one side or the other the outcome will get that party more seats in Congress? What happened to putting aside partisan politics and doing what is good for the country? Whether you love or hate Mr. Obama’s nominees, doesn’t the American public deserve getting individuals in these key positions who are permanent? Think this is bad, take a look at the Dept. of Justice where only handful of senior administrators have been confirmed. What a way to run a government!