Obama Commerce, Transportation Picks Advance in Senate

The nominations of Penny Pritzker for Commerce secretary and Anthony Foxx as Transportation secretary advanced to the full U.S. Senate, bypassing the political fights that have stymied other high-level appointments.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted unanimously for Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire, and Foxx, the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, said Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat. He said the votes yesterday to advance President Barack Obama’s nominees were “extraordinary,” given disagreements on other selections.

“I urge my colleagues to act quickly now to schedule votes on their nominations,” Rockefeller said in a statement. A vote may be set before the July recess, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, also is delaying until July consideration of several nominations that have triggered Republican opposition and led to threats by Democrats to change filibuster rules to expedite confirmations.

The stalled nominees include Thomas Perez to oversee the Labor Department, Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and five selected for the National Labor Relations Board.

Offshore Investments

Republicans had pledged a tough confirmation hearing for Pritzker, 54, a top Democratic donor who helped lead Obama to record fundraising levels as the finance chairman of his 2008 campaign. They focused on her offshore investments and role in the 2001 collapse of Illinois’ Superior Bank, a pioneer in the securitization of subprime mortgages.

Instead, Republicans including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Dan Coats of Indiana said she made a strong impression in one-on-one meetings before the hearing. Questions from party lawmakers centered on her views on Commerce operations -- from weather forecasting to trade promotion and airwaves management.

Pritzker would bring business experience to a department with almost 43,000 workers. She has developed a Chicago skyscraper, started a luxury senior housing company and served as chairwoman for a credit-reporting company. She would replace John Bryson, who quit a year ago for health reasons.

Pritzker, whose family began Hyatt Hotels Corp., would be among the wealthiest U.S. cabinet secretaries in history, ranking with industrialist Andrew Mellon, who served as Treasury secretary during the 1920s. In a disclosure form last month, she reported assets of $400 million to $2.2 billion, excluding the value of more than $50 million in Hyatt stock. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index puts her net worth at more than $1.5 billion.

Consulting Fee

On her investments, Pritzker told senators she is seeking to change administration of offshore trusts benefiting her and her family to the U.S. In her filing, Pritzker said she received $53.6 million in consulting-fee income last year from funds in the Bahamas, administered by CIBC Trust Co.

Foxx, if confirmed, would be a Washington newcomer running the Transportation Department after Ray LaHood, who is leaving. LaHood was a chief of staff to former House Republican Leader Robert Michel then elected as a Republican representing an Illinois congressional district from 1995 to 2009.

Foxx, 42, would face challenges, including a national highway system short on cash and financed by a gasoline tax that neither lawmakers nor Obama want to raise. Also, fresh automatic budget cuts known as sequestration set to begin with the next fiscal year on Oct. 1 would reduce the agency’s funding.

One Transportation Department unit -- the Federal Aviation Administration -- had to cut $637 million this year. Budget choices included furloughs of air-traffic controllers and shutdowns of towers operated by contractors that sparked a clash with Congress. In April, LaHood worked with key lawmakers to negotiate legislation that passed both chambers giving the agency added flexibility to make cuts elsewhere.

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