Commerce Department Dismantling Bill Progresses in House

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Publication date: 
17 October 1995
Number: 
146

On October 13, House Republicans announced consensus on a proposal
to dismantle the Department of Commerce.  Their plan is based on a
bill (H.R. 1756) sponsored by Dick Chrysler (R-MI) (see FYI #125).
The bill had to run a gamut of 11 different House committees, each
with jurisdiction over some of its elements.  Many of the
committees made changes which were incorporated into the final
proposal, including Robert Walker's (R-PA) Science Committee.   The
Republican leadership intends to roll the bill into their major
budget reconciliation package.  The purpose of reconciliation is to
alter existing tax and spending laws to reconcile them with the
budget-cutting targets Congress set for itself in this spring's
budget resolution.  The huge reconciliation bill will incorporate
congressional changes to Medicaid, Medicare, and many other federal
programs, as well as tax law, making it a hard choice for the
President to sign or veto.

The House plans to consider the reconciliation package on the floor
on October 24; the Senate will debate their version later the same
week.  House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-OH) was
quoted in the October 14 Washington Post as saying that if the
Senate objected to the inclusion of the Commerce dismantling
legislation in the reconciliation bill, the House would attempt
another way of eliminating the Commerce Department.

The Commerce Department's functions range widely from
telecommunications to trade and tourism, and from weather and
oceanography to the census.  The bill proposes to terminate almost
40 Commerce programs and 11,000 jobs, while shifting many essential
functions to other locations within the federal government. 

Under the amendments proposed by Walker, NIST and NOAA would be
combined in a National Institute for Science and Technology (see
FYI #129).  Also created in the bill would be a new trade agency,
to combine Commerce's trade programs with the Office of the Trade
Representative.

The White House has taken a stand against H.R. 1756 and similar
legislation (S. 929) working its way through the Senate.  President
Clinton has promised to veto any bill dismembering Commerce, and
Commerce Secretary Ron Brown has been highly active in fighting to
save his department.  In his written testimony at a September 6
House hearing, he asserted, "On the underlying question of whether
the United States of America needs a Commerce Department -- on this
issue I cannot yield....  I am committed to the survival of the
Department of Commerce because I believe firmly that the work of
this Department, and the manner in which its various components
relate to one another, is essential to the economic growth and
well-being of this country."

While House Republicans estimate that their bill would save close
to $7 billion over seven years, Brown argues that it would actually
cost taxpayers $1.5 billion, due to termination costs, the creation
of new, smaller entities, and the disruption of relocating numerous
functions.  He is quoted in the Washington Post as stating that the
bill is "a ludicrous idea.  It is bad policy, bad economics, bad
for American business and bad for American workers.  It would save
no money."