John Bryson, who became President Barack Obama’s Commerce secretary today, will take a leading role in the effort to reduce an unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent and a push to double U.S. exports.
Bryson, 68, the former head of Edison International in California, was sworn in to replace Gary Locke, who became U.S. ambassador to China in August. The Senate confirmed Bryson, who Obama chose at the end of May, by a 74-26 vote last night, with 21 Republicans and two independents joining all the Democrats in support.
Bryson takes over a department under pressure to deliver on Obama’s pledge to boost annual U.S. exports to $3.14 trillion by the end of 2014 from $1.57 trillion in 2009. Obama has also proposed a $447 billion package of tax cuts and government spending intended to reignite growth and hiring.
“I expect he will be a powerful voice inside the administration and a partner with the business community to grow our economy and open international markets for American manufacturers,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said during debate on the nomination.
Republicans delayed Bryson’s confirmation until Obama sent lawmakers legislation for free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Bills for those accords cleared Congress last week, and Obama signed them today.
Bryson’s corporate experience gives him an understanding of the steps needed to create jobs and rebuild the economy, Obama said in a statement after the vote.
“John Bryson will be a key member of my economic team, working with the business community to promote job creation, foster growth and help open up new markets around the world for American-made goods,” Obama said.
Bryson led Edison International, the owner of California’s largest utility, until 2008. His nomination was supported by the Business Roundtable, representing CEOs of companies such as Boeing Co., and opposed by Republicans including Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who criticized Bryson’s support in the past for legislation to cap carbon emissions.
“This nominee is the wrong person at the worst time,” Barrasso said yesterday on the Senate floor.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, had placed a “hold” on the nomination. He cited Bryson’s role as a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group that Inhofe said is “a left wing, environmentalist organization.”
At a June hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Bryson sounded themes favored by Republicans. Questioned by lawmakers who said Obama has issued too many costly regulations, Bryson said as Commerce secretary he would push to curb rules that are burdening companies, cut taxes and spur trade.
“I‘m committed to helping simplify regulations that are difficult to understand, eliminate regulations that are ineffective and speed up regulatory decisions so American businesses can have the certainty they need,’’ Bryson said at the hearing.
Bryson was on Boeing’s board with William Daley, now Obama’s chief of staff, and in June defended the decision by the Chicago-based company to add a nonunion assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. The National Labor Relations Board in April filed a complaint against Boeing, saying the aerospace company decided to build in South Carolina to retaliate for worker strikes at factories in Washington state, where the company makes aircraft.
Bryson joined Edison International in 1984 and was named chairman and CEO in 1990. He retired in 2008. In September 2010, he became chairman of BrightSource Energy Inc., an Oakland, California-based developer of solar-power plants.
Backed by investors including Morgan Stanley and Google Inc. and a $1.6 billion U.S. Energy Department loan guarantee, BrightSource is seeking to prove a technology it calls the power tower. The company has filed to raise $250 million in an initial public offering.
The solar-power industry is the subject of congressional scrutiny this year. Solyndra LLC, a solar-panel company, filed for bankruptcy last month, two years after winning a $535 million federal loan guarantee. The company is the subject of a House probe and an FBI investigation.
Seven U.S. solar-equipment makers two days ago asked the government to slap duties on more than $1 billion of Chinese imports, joining the wind-power industry in seeking compensation for what they say is unfair government aid undercutting American competitors.