Bruce Bartlett

The Washington Post reported on Sept. 9 that Treasury Secretary John Snow is once again being shown the door. His rumored replacement is White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who would then be replaced either by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove or Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolten. This sounds like a bad plan to me.

 It was only a few months ago that there were almost daily leaks from the White House about Snow being dismissed. When asked to comment on the record, the White House denied any intention of firing him. Secretary Snow could stay as long as wanted to, a spokesman said, "provided it is not very long," the Post reported.

 Although Snow eventually got a White House reprieve, he might as well have left, for all the influence he appears to have. Even though the secretary of the treasury chairs the board of trustees of the Social Security trust fund and even though the department is well staffed by economists with deep knowledge of the subject, this expertise seems never to have been drawn upon.

 Instead, fundamental reform of our nation's oldest and largest entitlement program was largely entrusted to a couple of mid-level White House staffers with neither the experience nor the resources to manage such an important project. Indeed, although there has been much discussion of a Bush "plan" to reform Social Security over the last year, in fact no such plan exists. It remains a bare-bones idea, with no flesh in the form of details or legislative language that would allow anyone to analyze its specific features.

 Little wonder, then, that the reform effort has gotten no traction, despite an enormous commitment of time by the president in giving pep talks all over the country. This effort required a detailed plan in advance, however -- one that was fully fleshed out with appropriate analyses and explanations of its specific features to be successful. Moreover, it assumed that this material had been available long enough for the policy community in Washington -- on Capitol Hill, in think tanks, among reporters -- to have fully absorbed the details and been able to discuss them knowledgably.

 This is, in fact, the way that large policy initiatives historically are done. Usually, there is a report drafted by the Cabinet department with primary expertise, which is published by the Government Printing Office and widely distributed. Such a report would explain the philosophy and rationale for the policy change, and contain a detailed proposal with extensive background, explanations of each provision, and evidence and argumentation for the change.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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