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Obama Nominee Bryson Echoes Republicans on Taxes, Regulation

Commerce Secretary Nominee John Bryson
John Bryson, nominee for secretary of U.S. Department of Commerce listens as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the State Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on May 31, 2011. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

June 22 (Bloomberg) -- John Bryson, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Commerce secretary, sounded more like a Republican than a party-line Democrat at times during congressional testimony yesterday.

Bryson, facing questions from lawmakers who said Obama has produced costly regulations and failed to spur job growth, said he would push as Commerce secretary to curb rules burdening companies and to cut corporate taxes.

“Businesses in our country are too often stifled by absolutely unnecessary, cumbersome regulation and unnecessary regulatory costs and delays,” Bryson testified to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Bryson, 67, also defended a decision by Chicago-based Boeing Co. to add a nonunion assembly line in South Carolina.

Lafe Solomon, the National Labor Relations Board’s acting general counsel, filed a complaint on April 20 saying Boeing built the plant for its new 787 Dreamliner in retaliation for work stoppages by unions at its Seattle-area production hub. Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, has denied such motives.

“The best legal analysis I saw says this legal initiative” by the NLRB “is not sound,” Bryson, who sat on the board of Boeing at the time of the decision to move, said yesterday when asked about it by senators. Bryson served on the board of Boeing along with William Daley, who is now Obama’s chief of staff.

Letter of Support

Bryson is a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, and former chief executive officer of Edison International, the owner of California’s largest utility.

Senators read a letter of support for Bryson from the Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs of companies such as Boeing. While Republicans questioned Obama’s policies, none said they would oppose Bryson’s nomination.

“My question is whether you will have the courage to stand up against some of the most anti-business policies we’ve ever seen in our country,” Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, said before Bryson testified.

Bryson joined Edison International in 1984 and was named CEO in October 1990. He retired in 2008. Since September, he has been chairman of BrightSource Energy Inc., an Oakland, California-based developer of solar power plants.

He has served on the board of Boeing since 1995 and on that of Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest media company, since 2000, according to the companies’ websites.

‘Tremendous Drive’

On taxes, Bryson said that “corporate-tax reform will make America more competitive. It‘s a cause I know the president cares about,’’ he said. ‘‘So when I come to him with what I‘m hearing from the U.S. business community, I know I‘ll have an eager audience.’’

On regulation, Obama has already launched an initiative to reevaluate existing rules to make sure they aren’t too onerous on businesses. The White House announced in May that 30 U.S. agencies will repeal or modify regulations, including those governing vapor recovery systems at gas stations and labeling mandates for hazardous materials.

‘‘We believe this administration realizes the importance of public protections’’ through government action, said Ben Peck, senior legislative associate at Demos, a New York-based advocacy group that favors a strong public sector. ‘‘We would have liked Mr. Bryson do more to explain the positive role of regulation.’’

Net Economic Benefit

The Office of Management and Budget under both President George W. Bush and Obama has determined that rules such as environmental or worker safety protections have a net benefit on the economy.

Bryson has ‘‘tremendous drive and tremendous executive experience, and so looking at it from a rational point of view you are a gift to this country,’’ Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, told Bryson. ‘‘You will be a needed voice in an administration that needs it more than it realizes.’’

Rockefeller questioned Bryson’s support in the past for a measure to cap carbon emissions, and asked if he would ‘‘fight against coal.’’

Bryson said he believed in ‘‘diverse sources of fuel, including in particular domestic sources of fuel,’’ citing a coal project that Edison had worked on in West Virginia. ‘‘The imperative now is enhancing our businesses in the U.S., and creating jobs. I will be focused on jobs.’’

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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