WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney, at various stops on the campaign trail Thursday, unveiled a new attack on President Barack Obama for suggesting he'd create a new secretary of business in a second term, under which he would consolidate existing agencies.
“Now, I know the president's been trying to figure out some way to suggest he's got some new ideas. ... He's got to find something to suggest it's going to be better over the next four years," Romney said at a campaign stop in Virginia. "And so he came up with an idea last week, which is he's going to create the department of business. I don't think adding a new chair in his Cabinet will help add millions of jobs on Main Street."
"We don't need a secretary of business to understand business," Romney said. "We need a president who understands business, and I do.
Earlier in the morning, Romney's campaign put out an advertisement on the secretary of business comments. And later in the day, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan went after the idea on the stump. "We already have a secretary of business," Ryan said, "it's called the secretary of commerce."
It's worth exploring exactly what the president was talking about when he mentioned the secretary of business idea. Here is the statement he made during an interview with MSNBC's Morning Joe that aired on Monday.
"I’ve said that I want to consolidate a whole bunch of government agencies," Obama said. "We should have one secretary of business, instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like giving loans to SBA [the Small Business Administration] or helping companies with exports."
The idea, in essence, is not to create a new government agency, but to merge parts of several under one roof. It's not exactly new. The president endorsed the concept during his State of the Union address in 2011 and set about outlining an executive branch reorganization effort in January 2012. It didn't go far, in part, White House officials say, because such a reorganization would need congressional approval.
Obama's idea had prominent backing from business leaders and from different ideological points along the political spectrum.
While any specific restructuring plan must undergo congressional review, reorganization holds real potential to strengthen accountability, improve government efficiency and produce significant budget savings.
In companies across America, CEOs react to rapidly changing conditions in the global marketplace. They have to be able to eliminate inefficiencies and deploy resources where they will be most effective. In the federal government, the President should have the same ability that CEOs and many governors have.
I couldn’t agree more with President Obama’s call to vastly increase the federal government’s ability to merge overlapping and duplicative agencies and deliver better services at the same or less cost to taxpayers. In New York City, we’ve implemented more than a dozen mergers affecting more than 30 agencies and offices across the city.
While we can debate what responsibilities government should undertake, we can all agree that government should be more streamlined, efficient, cost effective, and rational. Businesses large and small reinvent themselves constantly -- waste, duplication, poor budgeting, and lousy service are a death sentence. Shouldn’t government be as vigilant? What’s needed is some good old-fashioned business know-how.
That’s why the U.S. Chamber supports the Obama administration’s efforts to reorganize and streamline the federal bureaucracy, eliminate wasteful spending, and consolidate and merge agencies, departments, and programs.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okl.), offering a more broad endorsement of government reorganization and simplification:
I am fully supporting the President’s idea to reorganize. I am going to help on this bill.
What's different between last year and now, it seems, is that Obama's given a name to the position atop the streamlined agency. That, in turn, is enough of a hook for Romney to accuse him of expanding bureaucracy when he was saying it should be consolidated. But the fundamental concept is, basically, the same as before. And for people who worked on it, the idea that it's classic big-government liberalism is laughable.
Obama's "proposal to consolidate and reorganize the parts of the government that help promote business and trade will save taxpayers money and help our country’s businesses grow and sell their goods and services overseas," said Kenneth Baer, a former White House Office of Management and Budget senior official. "It’s amazing to me that a presidential candidate with a Harvard MBA would oppose the same types of consolidation and efficiencies that businesses across the country have undertaken themselves to deliver for their customers."
As for Ryan, Baer had sharper words.
"I am not surprised that Ryan is lying that it’s a new idea," Baer said. "I am surprised that Paul Ryan -- the Ayn Randian conservative that he is -- is insulted that six government agencies will be consolidated into one."