According to press reports, the first job for Josh Bolten, the new White House chief of staff, will be to find a new treasury secretary. President Bush believes that he has not gotten enough credit for the good economy and that Treasury Secretary John Snow has not done enough to make sure he gets that credit.
All I can say is that if Snow is not enough of a cheerleader on the economy, then no one is. In my view, he has allowed the federal government's second-ranking department to be downgraded into little more than a PR shop. Half the Treasury's press statements seem to be nothing but raves about some obscure economic statistic or another.
It has always been my belief that what really determines peoples' perceptions about the state of the economy is what they see in their lives, neighborhoods and workplaces. They don't pay any attention to the gross domestic product numbers or any of the lesser figures released on almost a daily basis.
If people have jobs, if their wages are rising, if they can pay for the things they need and have a little left over to invest, then they are happy about the economy. If they are unemployed or fear layoffs, if their wages are stagnating and they are wary of losing benefits, and they are having to go into debt rather than save for the future, then they are going to be unhappy about the economy no matter how great the data are or how hard the White House and Treasury hype the numbers.
Of course, the president is entitled to have the Cabinet secretaries he is most comfortable with, and if he wants someone new at Treasury, then he and his new chief of staff should move with dispatch. Snow has already been hung out to dry long enough.
It's worth remembering that there have been rumors about Snow's imminent sacking almost since he came on board in 2003, after his predecessor, Paul O'Neill, was fired. Just a year later, The Washington Post reported that the White House was already looking for Snow's replacement. The White House denied it -- he could stay as long as he liked, "provided it is not very long."
With a vote of confidence like that, it is a wonder that Snow is still around. Apparently, it was only the White House's inability to find anyone of sufficient stature to take the job that saved him. Why it thinks it will have a better chance of finding that person today is a mystery. There is really no time left to do much of anything in terms of economic policy, and Bush's two previous secretaries were forced out. Anyone coming in now will have to know that they are just going to be marking time and will have no meaningful influence.
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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