Commerce's Future Debated

Senate Republicans are expected to zero in on the future of the Commerce Department and their wish to see it downsized and privatized during today's confirmation hearing for commerce secretary nominee William Daley.

Senate Commerce Chairman McCain will ask Daley how his "vision" for the department "blends" with the views of the Republican majority, according to a committee GOP aide.

McCain believes that because some of the department's functions duplicate other federal agencies, it should be downsized and eventually abolished.

The aide said McCain believes the department performs some "legitimate and vital" services, but he will question whether those services should remain within Commerce.

When asked whether there will be any make-or-break issues for Daley's confirmation, the aide said, "I can state emphatically that there is no litmus test."

Democrats, meanwhile, prepared for the Republican attack on the department and the return to the "abandonment" theme the GOP majority sounded in the 104th Congress, a committee minority aide said. "Democrats will defend the department and will make the case that in these post-Cold War times, we should not break up the department but expand its scope," the minority aide said. Daley, a chief negotiator and pitchman for the administration on the North American Free Trade Agreement, is a brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley with strong business ties.

His work as a lobbyist on behalf of foreign firms seeking to do business in the United States, described Friday in the Chicago Tribune, is expected to be a point of discussion, sources said. "It's certainly a legitimate issue to be raised. All the committee members were given copies of the article," the Republican aide said. Nonetheless, both majority and minority sources predicted in interviews that Daley will be confirmed by the full Senate. "The thought is he'll be confirmed, barring something big coming out," said a Republican source.

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