Obama’s ‘Secretary of Business’ plan backburnered


(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

That’s the post that Obama suggested during the campaign — actually, it wasn’t a new plan, but rather a catchy label affixed to a plan he proposed earlier in the year consolidating six agencies with jurisdiction over business into one.

During the campaign, the proposal was widely mocked, and now it looks like it’s resting comfortably on the proverbial back burner.

Many who would be involved in such an overhaul — folks on the Hill, at some of the potentially affected agencies, and at outside business groups — say they’ve heard little about the consolidation plan in months, even after Obama revived it on the campaign trail.

“We didn’t even pan it at the time,” says one House Republican aide. “We took the attitude of ‘well, let’s hear what you have to say,’ and nothing has come of it.”

In Obama’s plan, which he outlined in an East Room event in January, Obama said he wanted Congress to pass legislation reinstating a president’s authority to make changes to the executive branch — which now require congressional approval. The plan would combine a number of smaller agencies (including the U.S. Trade Representative, the Small Business Administration, the Import-Export Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade and Development Agency) into one.

Afterward, Sens. Mark Warner and Joe Lieberman introduced legislation to that effect in the Senate, Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) did so in the House, and Lieberman’s Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the proposal.

But nearly a year later, there’s been no movement — neither chamber has indicated it plans to take it up, and there’s been little pressure from the White House.

Don’t stick a fork in it just yet, though.

White House spokesman Jay Carney indicated to reporters the week before the election that the streamlining proposal would be one of Obama’s first orders of business. “The President will be engaging directly after the election in moving forward,” he said, adding that he was “very committed to that proposal.”

At the moment, Obama has more pressing priorities at hand — say, dealing with the “fiscal cliff,” and filling his second-term Cabinet — than nudging Congress on this and expending some serious time and political capital.

Another item for the to-do list, it seems.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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