Time for a political Treasury Secretary

There is a great deal to be said for the American habit - highly unusual in parliamentary systems - for bringing in business leaders and economists to key roles like Treasury Secretary. The problem is that this habit has lately gone awry. President Bush has expected his Treasury Secretaries to be principally spokesmen for - and not architects of - his economic policy. This makes it much harder to attract quality people. It has also led to a somewhat rudderless economic policy, committed to tax cuts, and not much else.

Bush formed his administration in 2001 on the assumption that he was personally going to focus on domestic policy. It made sense. He knew his father's presidency had foundered by ignoring the home front and his own background, as a governor, was more suited to this task. He therefore constructed an administration filled with foreign policy heavyweights and more pliable figures for domestic affairs. The trouble is, since 9/11, the President has NOT been focussed on domestic affairs, and too much of his pliable team has been left in place or replaced with others of similar persuasion.

What he needs now is a political heavyweight who will bring vision and leadership to the Treasury. Phil Gramm or Dick Armey spring to mind as possibles. Robert Zoellick would bring a commitment to free trade as well as political skills. Rob Portman is known for his loyalty to the Bushes as much as to any set of ideas, but at least has a background in politics and the congressional contacts to advance an agenda.

The current uncertainty surrounding John Snow's position is damaging. A decisive move to change direction would be most welcome.

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