America Has A Commerce Secretary Again

The Senate yesterday confirmed John Bryson to serve as Secretary of Commerce by a vote of 74 to 26 which served to illustrate how profoundly dysfunctional the American political system has become.

Recall that Bryson was nominated way back in June. He was nominated for a post that is only ever the subject of political controversy when a Census with redistricting implications is underway. He was nominated at a time of maximum distance from a Census controversy. Not only was it an utterly uncontroversial job, he was an utterly uncontroversial choice — a kind of old-time moderately conservative businessman with some environmentalist leanings. But Senate Republicans vowed to block him anyway. Not because they had objections to him, but because they wanted unrelated policy concessions. Specifically they wanted ratification of trade agreements that the Obama administration already supported. Since President Obama had already agreed to GOP demands, it was extremely difficult for him to give in to GOP demands. Then Republicans made a new demand that the trade deals couldn’t be ratified unless congress also stopped offering Trade Adjustment Assistance funding. At that point, Bryson was being held hostage to the ratification of trade deals that were being held up by Republicans! So the post languished vacant for months. Then finally the trade deals got signed late last week.

But in the intervening months Bryson had been hanging out there and so various complaints had to be made about him, and now 26 Senators have persuaded themselves that his tenure at the Commerce Department will lead to massive socialism or something.

At any rate, a round of applause is in order for Rebecca Blank. Confirmed as an Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs she then became Acting Deputy Secretary as that post became vacant in 2010. Then during the Bryson standoff she’s been serving as Acting Secretary. My assumption is that she’s now busted back down to Acting Deputy Secretary as well as presumably still being Undersecretary for Economic Affairs. Someday, maybe, we’ll adopt a form of government in which jobs aren’t regularly deemed so crucial as to require Senate confirmation but sufficiently trivial as to be allowed to have nobody doing them for years.