Thune Statement on Secretary of Commerce Confirmation Hearing

May 23, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, delivered the following prepared remarks at today’s Secretary of Commerce confirmation hearing for Penny Pritzker:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the nomination of Penny Pritzker to be the next Secretary of Commerce. Ms. Pritzker has an extensive background in the private sector and I look forward to hearing how she will apply that experience to achieve positive results at the Department of Commerce and for the nation’s economy, should she be confirmed.

The Department of Commerce is tasked with promoting business, facilitating job creation, and spurring economic growth. Unfortunately, our nation’s unemployment rate is still at an unacceptable level—7.5 percent. In December of 2007, the unemployment rate measured at 5 percent, and it peaked at 10 percent in October 2009. Clearly, much work remains to get the unemployment rate back to pre-recession levels – particularly when you factor in the 21.9 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed. Despite positive reports in other areas of the economy, job growth remains very slow and so far in 2013, monthly job growth has lagged behind the monthly averages experienced last year.

We in Congress must make jobs and the economy our top priority, and that means we must strive to do what we can to unleash the great American entrepreneurial spirit. We need to remove needless and outdated regulation and reduce burdensome tax rates for businesses of all sizes. We must craft policies that spur the private sector to take risks to create jobs, and we must also seek to restrain the government’s inclination to intervene in the marketplace. 

In other words, we should let the free market choose economic winners and losers, rather than having the government do so. That is why I believe it is critically important to have a Secretary of Commerce who has a strong record of accomplishment in creating jobs in the private sector, someone who knows the challenges and how to overcome the barriers the private sector faces in creating jobs.

I believe the next Commerce Secretary must be a strong advocate for trade and open markets for America’s farmers and manufacturers. The next Commerce Secretary must also work to create a more business friendly environment. 

It is no secret that the Obama administration has been criticized for adopting a negative attitude toward business, which I believe contributes to some of the economic problems we’ve observed over the last several years. There’s significant uncertainty in the private sector, and many within the business community are wary of the Obama administration’s predisposition to have the government intervene in the free market and its failure to adopt pro-growth policies.

I believe we must have a cabinet official who is strongly committed to economic expansion, trade promotion, and policies that strengthen our competitiveness. So, I look forward to hearing Ms. Pritzker discuss her priorities with respect to these issues. I am particularly interested in hearing about Ms. Pritzker’s experiences serving on the President’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness.

I’m also interested in Ms. Pritzker’s views on making more federal spectrum available for commercial use. The Commerce Department is uniquely situated to play a role in this matter, particularly with one of its agencies, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Should Ms. Pritzker be confirmed, I would ask that she focus some of her time and energy on dealing with this issue, especially with respect to freeing up the 1755 to 1780 megahertz band. 

I hope that we can work together to resolve this issue, because if we are successful, it will ignite a great deal of economic activity across the country, assist in funding a nationwide public safety network, and ultimately help to ease the nation’s debt by bringing billions of dollars into the treasury from the auctioning of this valuable spectrum to the private sector.

Finally, I would note that some concerns have been raised about Ms. Pritzker’s role with, and position as a beneficiary of, an offshore tax haven, as well as her role in the failure of Superior Bank back in 2000 and 2001. I have been in communication with her on these matters, and would appreciate her continuing to work with us after the hearing to answer all of the questions I and other Members of the Committee may have, before we report her nomination.

Should she be confirmed, I hope that Ms. Pritzker will be a strong voice on the President’s cabinet for lowering regulatory burdens, lowering taxes for businesses large and small, and promoting job creation in the private sector.

On a personal note, Ms. Pritzker, I want to thank you for your willingness to serve our country.  While I don’t expect that we will see eye-to-eye on every issue, it is important that we have individuals with experience in business who are willing to put that experience to work in the service of our nation.

Thank you again for holding this hearing, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to Ms. Pritzker’s testimony.