Secretary of Say What?

Obama now says he wants a cabinet officer for business. Seriously.


By Wall Street Journal.

Updated October 29, 2012, 9:18 p.m. ET


The brain trust behind President Obama’s re-election campaign has a new idea, and what a revelation it is. A week from Election Day, Mr. Obama has disclosed to the voters that in a second term he’ll create more private jobs by creating . . . one more government job.

Specifically, and all of a sudden, Mr. Obama wants a new Cabinet-level post that will be known as the Secretary of Business. “I’ve said I want to consolidate a whole bunch of government agencies,” he said Monday, in a performance that captured his Presidency in miniature. “We should have one Secretary of Business, instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like getting loans to SBA [the Small Business Administration] or helping companies with exports. There should be a one-stop shop.”

Mr. Obama then blamed Republicans for opposing this inspiration that no one had ever heard of until he disclosed it to the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He said his re-election “clears away a lot of the ideological underbrush,” and that the GOP will then join him to “start looking at a whole bunch of issues, as I’ve said, has historically not been that ideological.”

Mr. Obama said Republicans haven’t wanted to streamline government because they’re supposedly “protective about giving up their jurisdiction over various pieces of government.” This will be news to Paul Ryan and the tea party.

Maybe Republicans would have opposed the Secretary of Business if they’d learned about it somewhere besides cable news, but who knows? The reasons could include turf, but also the fact that the government already has an agency with a “focus on expanding the American economy and job creation” and that “invests in America’s long-term growth and competitiveness”

It’s called the Department of Commerce, with its very own Secretary, and the quotes in the preceding paragraph are how the White House describes its mission in its 2013 budget. Mr. Obama wants to expand Commerce spending by 5% to some $8 billion annually. Extra credit goes to anyone who can name the acting Commerce Secretary. No Googling.

Perhaps nobody knows who Rebecca M. Blank is because the real Secretary of Business in Mr. Obama’s first term has been Valerie Jarrett, his Hyde Park confidante turned White House fixer. Ms. Jarrett knows nothing about business or the economy, with the possible exception of the political economy of the Chicago wards, which may explain why the Administration’s idea of helping business has been to dispense subsidies and other favors to politically favored donors and their green energy firms.

As for real CEOs, they started out giving the President the benefit of the doubt but grew disillusioned as Mr. Obama unleashed a torrent of new regulations and pursued his liberal social agenda instead of nurturing an economic recovery.

As CEO complaints grew, the White House famously challenged the Business Roundtable and Business Council to identify pending rules that were harming job creation and economic growth. The lobbies responded in summer 2010 with a 54-page compendium, but they got no substantive response. Even after Republicans took the House in 2010, the White House did virtually nothing as Mr. Obama chose to campaign for re-election as the populist scourge of rapacious capitalists.

But now, after four years, he wants a Secretary of Business. Believe it.

On the other hand, some of the “ideological underbrush” that Mr. Obama told MSNBC that his re-election will clear away is opposition to higher taxes on business, especially small business. His multiple tax increases would hit the S corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, sole proprietors and other pass-through businesses that employ 54% of U.S. workers and pay taxes under the individual tax code. Mr. Obama is so bent on raising these tax rates that his aides are threatening a veto if Congress dares to extend them in a lame-duck session.

The reality is that most businesses don’t want their own cabinet department. They’ll invest more and hire more workers if Washington would impose fewer costs, reform the tax code, and stop trying to allocate capital for political reasons. Rebuilding business confidence doesn’t require a Secretary of Business but a new President.

A version of this article appeared October 30, 2012, on page A22 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Secretary of Say What?.

A version of this article appeared October 30, 2012, on page A22 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Secretary of Say What?.

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