Obama's Second Term: Forward to 1903 with a 'Secretary of Business'

In an interview conducted over the weekend with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough that aired on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday, President Obama announced that a key element of his second term agenda will be to establish a new cabinet level department headed up by a "Secretary of Business."

The only problem with the President's plan?

Theodore Roosevelt implemented it back in 1903 when he signed the law that created the Department of Commerce.


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President Obama's "Secretary of Business" comments begin at the 8:10 mark:

"I've said that I want to consolidate a whole bunch of government agencies. We should have one Secretary of Business instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like getting loans through the SBA or helping companies with exports. There should be a one-stop shop. Now, the reason we haven't done that is not because of some big ideological difference. It has to do with congress talking a good game about wanting to streamline government but being very protective about not giving up their jurisdiction over various pieces of government."

In the Morning Joe interview, the President repackaged his January 2012 proposal to eliminate the current Department of Commerce, and consolidate several currently independent agencies with the old Department of Commerce into one new and improved Department of Commerce:  

So today, I’m calling on Congress to reinstate the authority that past presidents have had to streamline and reform the Executive Branch.  This is the same sort of authority that every business owner has to make sure that his or her company keeps pace with the times.  And let me be clear:  I will only use this authority for reforms that result in more efficiency, better service and a leaner government.

Now, a little bit of history here.  Congress first granted this authority to presidents in the midst of the Great Depression, so that they could swiftly reorganize the Executive Branch to respond to the changing needs of the American people and the immediate challenges of the Depression.  For the next 52 years, presidents were able to streamline or consolidate the Executive Branch by submitting a proposal to Congress that was guaranteed a simple up or down vote.

In 1984, while Ronald Reagan was President, Congress stopped granting that authority. . .

Right now, there are six departments and agencies focused primarily on business and trade in the federal government.  Six.  Commerce Department, Small Business Administration, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.  In this case, six is not better than one.  Sometimes more is better; this is not one of those cases, because it produces redundancy and inefficiency.  With the authority that I’m requesting today, we could consolidate them all into one department, with one website, one phone number, one mission:  helping American businesses succeed.  That’s a big idea.  

We’d have one department where entrepreneurs can go from the day they come up with an idea and need a patent, to the day they start building a product and need financing for a warehouse, to the day they’re ready to export and need help breaking into new markets overseas.  One website, easy to use, clear.  One department where all our trade agencies would work together to ensure businesses and workers can better export by better enforcing our trade agreements.  One department dedicated to helping our businesses sell their products to the 95 percent of global consumers who live beyond our shores. . .

So with or without Congress, I’m going to keep at it.  

The President made news on Morning Joe by offering a new name to this department. What Teddy Roosevelt called the Department of Commerce in 1903, President Obama would call the Department of Business in a second term.


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