Time to reshuffle the pack

Dateline 26 April 2006

At the time of writing, John Snow is still the US Treasury Secretary, which makes it a little difficult to tell the overall direction of the President’s cabinet reshuffle. New faces at the Office of Management and Budget and as Chief of Staff are important, but not exactly high profile.

Despite a call from Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard for Dick Cheney to step down as Vice-President and take over from Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, we cannot expect anything so radical. Cheney would be replaced, in the Barnes vision, by Condoleezza Rice, who in turn would be replaced by Democrat Senator, Joe Lieberman. Barnes is probably closer to the White House than any other journalist, but I suspect his article (published in the Wall Street Journal) demonstrates more than anything that cabinet reshuffles are more fun for journalists than for Presidents.

So far the Bush domestic policy team has been remarkably weak and rudderless. Bush, as a former governor with no background in foreign affairs, probably expected to lead this effort himself. The priorities of his 2000 campaign were mostly domestic. He installed powerful and experienced figures such as Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice to manage international affairs with the probable intention of leaving them to it. 9/11 changed everything, and the President had to focus on international affairs himself.

The unfortunate result is that no-one is leading domestic policy, and previous reshuffles – replacing O’Neill with Snow – have done nothing to address this problem. The President seems to regard his Treasury Secretary’s job as being a salesman for the administration policy, not an architect of it. This has made it harder to attract high profile figures from the business world, but such would probably be the wrong choice in any case.

A strong Treasury Secretary with a political background could fill the void at the heart of the administration, and provide real direction to domestic policy. For my money, the best pick would be either former Senator Phil Gramm or former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Both are Texans and well known to the President.

Gramm was originally elected to the House as a Democrat and defected to the GOP when Reagan was President. He resigned from the House and was re-elected by his district under his new colors. He was later elected to the Senate and in 1996 ran an abortive campaign for the Presidency. Gramm is an expert in economics – he used to teach the subject – and has been tipped for the Treasury before, including by this columnist. He may feel, however, that having been passed over twice before, he would rather stay in the private sector, where he is earning much more money.

Armey was an ally of former Speaker Newt Gingrich and current Majority Leader, John Boehner, is one of his protégés. When Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert took over the Republican caucus Armey became increasingly disillusioned with the free spending leadership and stepped down from the House in disgust. With DeLay now out of the picture and Boehner back in the leadership Armey would be well-placed to build alliances between the White House and Capitol Hill.

Gramm and Armey are both ardent tax-cutters and free-traders. Either of them would serve with distinction.

This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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