Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Nomination of Carlos Gutierrez

January 5, 2005. The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Carlos Gutierrez to be Secretary of Commerce. Senators of both parties praised him, and predicted his rapid confirmation. He encountered no criticism or opposition.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the new ranking Democrat on the Committee, praised Gutierrez, and said that he would vote for him. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the new Chairman, did the same. Other Democrats on the Committee praised Gutierrez, and his life history, and suggested that they will vote for him. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who represent Gutierrez's home state, both testified in support of him.

Gutierrez was born in Havana, Cuba. His family came to the U.S. when he was a child. He went to work for the Kellogg Company in 1975, driving a van and stocking shelves. He is now the Chairman of the Board and CEO. He as no college education. The Kellogg Company is based in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Sen. Ted StevensSen. Stevens (at right) stated that the Committee may meet again, in a room off of the Senate floor, on Thursday, January 6, to formally pick the Chairman of the Committee, and vote to forward the Gutierrez nomination to the full Senate. Senate confirmation could then take place on January 20, 2005.

The hearing lasted for two hours. Almost all of the new and returning members of the Committee spoke and asked questions. Gutierrez said little about what actions he might take if confirmed. However, the meeting provided indications of the members' policy goals for the 109th Congress.

There was little discussion of technology or communications related issues.

Many members of the Committee raised issues related to oceans and fisheries. The new membership of the Committee consists of 22 Senators. A disproportionate number, 15, represent states that border on either the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, or Gulf of Mexico. Just under half of the states border on oceans.

Many Senators raised trade issues. However, they mostly emphasized enforcement of existing trade obligations, rather than negotiation of new trade agreements. Many members raised the dispute with Canada over softwood lumber. Several members raised intellectual property related problems in the People's Republic of China.

Gutierrez stated that his goals include "fostering the environment in which our free enterprise system will flourish, by serving as an advocate for reducing trade and regulatory barriers that unreasonably burden our businesses and their workers" and "collaborating with the U.S. Trade Representative both in the negotiation of sound trade agreements that will open markets to U.S. exports, and in vigorous challenges to policies and practices abroad that violate those agreements".

He said also that he is committed to supporting the Department of Commerce's mission of "creating conditions for economic growth and opportunity by promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, competitiveness, and environmental stewardship."

In response to questions from new member Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), he said that the Department of Commerce should promote "risk taking", "innovation", and "entrepreneurship". Gutierrez added that "we have to be careful that we do not make business risk almost a liability", or a crime.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), a new member of the Committee, asked Gutierrez what plans he has for promoting the deployment of broadband internet access services in rural areas. Gutierrez responded to this questions as he did to many other questions at this hearing. He shares the Senator's concern, and it is a priority for him, but he has not yet formulated any policies.

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) said that piracy of copyrighted material, especially in the People's Republic of China and Russia, is a serious problem. Gutierrez and agreed, and offered his experiences in protecting the Kellogg brand. However, neither Sen. Smith, nor any other Senator discussed piracy or intellectual property outside of the context of foreign trade.

Sen. George Allen (R-VA) focused almost entirely on technology related issues. He raised intellectual property rights, and cited problems with China regarding both software and semiconductor chips.

Sen. George AllenSen. Allen (at right) also advocated banning internet access taxes, regardless of the platform used to access the internet. Gutierrez spoke vaguely about sharing Sen. Allen's concerns, and wanting to maintain the status quo.

Late last year, the Congress passed, and President Bush signed, S 150, a bill that extended the internet tax moratorium through November 1, 2007, and created many new exceptions to the moratorium. See, story titled "Bush Signs Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,031, December 6, 2004.

Sen. Allen also advocated federal support for upgrading information technology at minority serving institutions. Gutierrez discussed Kellogg's history of support for minority education.

Sen. Allen also advocated broadband, and "getting the Communications Act up to date". However, neither he, nor any other members elaborated on amending the Act.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that "we are going to have to address intellectual property issues", especially with respect to China.

He also referenced the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and advocated making more spectrum available for first responders. He added that this proposal will face opposition, but he did not broadcast who the opponents will be.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said that she wants Gutierrez to hold China to its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations.

Sen. Stevens and Sen. Inouye also used this occasion to identify changes in the operation of the Committee. They described themselves as friends, partners, and brothers. Sen. Stevens said that the Committee will be run in a non-partisan manner.

Sen. Stevens added that he and Sen. Inouye have served in the Senate, and on the Commerce and Appropriations Committees, for decades, and "we have never found an issue that we couldn't resolve amicably".

Sen. Stevens also said that the Committee will follow the "early bird rule". This means that Senators speak in the order in which they appear at the hearing. Most Committees adhere to the privilege of seniority.

Gutierrez brought his wife, two daughters and son to the hearing. Sen. Stevens said that "we note your beautiful daughters". Gutierrez responded, "They have been harder to manage than the Kellogg Company." Sen. Stevens also asked Gutierrez to join him in Alaska for a fishing trip.