Ron Brown Campaigns for Embattled Agency

DOGGED by congressional proposals to eliminate his department, and under investigation by a newly appointed independent counsel for possible ethics violations, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown insists he is still a major player in the Clinton administration.

Mr. Brown told reporters on Aug.1 that he wields great influence both in the business community and the White House, and that he intends to be an active part of President Clinton's re-election campaign.

''There are 73 new people who are flexing their muscles,'' Brown says of the Republican freshmen in the House. He adds that GOP efforts to zero out his agency could be more politically than fiscally driven. ''I guess I have political adversaries who would like to see me defend the department rather than'' win business support as the lead advocate of US commercial interests abroad.

Why hasn't corporate America come to the Commerce Department's aid since it has been under siege from Capitol Hill? ''Initially, nobody believed this was serious. It's one of those things that you throw up against the wall and see if it sticks.'' But as lawmakers continued their offensive, the American business community reacted, Brown says, citing 2,000 letters from business leaders in recent weeks.

Brown, who has described the congressional calls for an end to the Commerce Department as ''tantamount to unilateral disarmament in the global battle for competitiveness,'' is confident that his side will win. ''In the final analysis, cooler heads will prevail.''

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