Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Shake-up That Wasn’t

[[G I G S]] * This is just so typical of the Bush White House. After months spent dithering over whether to can Treasury Secretary John Snow, who never seemed to engender confidence in the financial markets and appeared to be on his way out the door shortly after the 2004 presidential election (despite administration expressions of “total confidence” in his leadership), George W. Bush finally announced today that he would nominate Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Henry M. Paulson Jr. to replace Snow. But then he promptly signaled that a change of faces and office furnishings at the top of Treasury won’t make a whole lot of difference, because the Republican administration intends to continue pursuing its fiscally irresponsible policy of giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and leaving the next generation with the bills.

“Hank shares my philosophy that the economy prospers when we trust the American people to save, spend, and invest their money as they see fit,” the prez said during a Rose Garden roll-out of Paulson’s nomination this morning. “The tax relief we delivered has helped set off the economic expansion that we’re seeing today. And one of Hank’s most important responsibilities will be to build on this success by working with Congress to maintain a pro-growth, low-tax environment.”

So much for all the happy talk about how Paulson, Bush’s third Treasury secretary in just over six years, will have a bigger role in shaping the administration’s economic policy than did his two successors, Snow and Paul O’Neill. Unlike President Bill Clinton, Bush does not like to share the media spotlight with any other members of his Cabinet--save for Dick “Shooter” Cheney, of course. Nor does he want at Treasury somebody who’ll be overly honest with the American public about the damage he’s doing to the nation’s economic future. The prez continued his campaign of obfuscation and double-talk today, when he told the press: “Hank also understands that the government should spend the taxpayers’ money wisely or not at all. He will work closely with Congress to help restrain the spending appetite of the federal government and keep us on track to meet our goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009.” Who is Bush kidding here? This is a guy who has yet to veto a single piece of congressional spending legislation, even though the U.S. budget surplus is projected this year to reach a record-setting $423 billion and the Defense Department continues to shell out “about $4.5 billion a month on the conflict in Iraq, or about $100,000 per minute,” according to The Seattle Times. Yet Bush expects his Secretary of the Treasury to hold the line on spending?

It might be a bad sign that, on the same day Bush nominated Paulson (who must still be approved by the U.S. Senate), the value of the U.S. dollar sagged in comparison to other major currencies, and the “Dow Jones industrial skidded almost 185 points.”

* * *

In an interesting side note to the Paulson selection, Think Progress reveals that, while the new secretary-wannabe has been a major GOP campaign contributor (he raked in at least $100,000 for Bush’s 2004 campaign), he and the prez aren’t completely on the same page when it comes to environmental protection. In fact, Paulson might have been closer to President Al Gore’s heart. Paulson “not only endorses the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse emissions,” Think Progress reports, “but argues that the United States’ failure to enact Kyoto”--thanks to Bush’s refusal to submit the treaty to Congress for ratification--“undermines the competitiveness of U.S. companies.” The site adds that, because of Paulson’s pro-environment positions, his “nomination is strongly opposed by a coalition [of] right-wing groups seeking to cast doubt on climate science, such as the National Center for Public Policy Research, describing Paulson as ‘diametrically opposed to the positions of [the Bush] Administration.’”

To learn more about nominee Paulson’s environmental concerns, read the excellent Salon essay “Seeing Green at Treasury,” by Amanda Griscom Little.

* * *

Here’s yet another curious component of the Paulson story. It seems Bush has been caught lying to the American public. Again. On Thursday, May 25, in answer to a press question regarding whether John Snow intended to leave his Treasury post, the prez answered, “No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he’s doing a fine job.” (See the video here.) However, The Carpetbagger Report says that “White House Press Secretary Tony Snow acknowledged today that John Snow and Bush talked on May 20, Snow stepped aside, and Henry Paulson agreed on May 21 to take the job.” Well before Bush claimed not to have talked with the secretary about his leaving.

Spinner Tony Snow sought to excuse the prez’s dishonesty, saying it was justified, because Bush didn’t want to upset the financial markets before Paulson had been completely vetted for his new job. However, as Carpetbagger’s Steve Benen observes, the administration wasn’t nearly so prudent when it was spreading rumors about John Snow’s short-timer status.

Have you ever seen a president so very unwilling to take responsibility for his actions?

SECRETARY, PROTECT YOURSELF: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman offers some advice--free of charge--to Henry Paulson, which he says might help the Treasury secretary candidate avoid the humiliation and dismissal that have greeted so many once-touted Bush administration officials:
No doubt you received assurances that like Robert Rubin, but unlike your predecessors in this administration, you’ll get to be a real Treasury secretary. And you probably believe that those assurances can be trusted, if only because the Bush people currently need you a lot more than you need them.

But Paul O’Neill, who received tremendous acclaim from the news media when he was appointed Treasury secretary, must have believed the same thing. The fact is that you’ll be treated well as long as you are perceived as someone who adds credibility with people outside the administration, and not a moment longer. Yet I’m sure you’re already under pressure to say things that will fatally undermine your credibility. ...

What will they ask you to lie about? Maybe you’ll be asked to declare that we’re on track toward a balanced budget. Or maybe you’ll be asked to lie about environmental policy. Some of the administration’s right-wing supporters opposed your selection because you are known as a supporter of action against global warming, so the political types might want you to throw them a bone by endorsing the administration’s failure to do anything about the threat.

Right now, you’re being flattered. You have a natural urge to be a team player. But if you play the game your new bosses want you to play, your credibility with the public will evaporate in no time at all. And when you’re no longer useful to your new friends, you’ll be tossed aside.
READ MORE:Bush Selects Goldman Chief to Take Over Treasury Department,” by John O’Neil and Jeremy W. Peters (The New York Times); “What’s So Special About Goldman Sachs?” by Daniel Gross (Slate); “Dems Say Oil Execs, Bush Admin. Set to Gain From Estate Tax Repeal” (Raw Story); “What Does the Treasury Secretary Do All Day?” by Brenden I. Koerner (Slate).

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