Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2002 / 13 Teves, 5763
Critics of Bush nominees should tone down rhetoric
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | President Bush's nominations of John Snow to be the next Treasury secretary, William Donaldson to be the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman and Stephen Friedman to be chief economic advisor aren't even a week old, and the partisan carping has begun. And while Capitol Hill Democrats are gleefully joining in, the noisiest negatives are emanating from a handful of right-wing conservatives.
These supply-side conservatives apparently consider themselves to be in sole possession of the economic Rosetta stone, giving them an immense advantage over the rest of us mere mortals - Republicans and Democrats alike - who don't subscribe to their particular brand of orthodoxy.
Certainly, Snow, Donaldson and Friedman don't subscribe. All three have been remarkably successful. All have built reputations for integrity, good judgment and success. And all have accepted the president's request for public service, knowing full well that their every financial transaction, every business deal, every political utterance and even their personal lives would be put under fierce scrutiny.
But that isn't enough for some Democrats and some supply-side conservatives. A few Democrats would be chipping away, criticizing the president and his nominees even if he presented the names of three men who passed every liberal litmus test. The supply-siders, however, are focusing their fury on Friedman and, to a much lesser degree, Snow. The greatest sin of both, these critics contend, is their history of support for fiscal prudence - they've actually had the temerity to decry federal budget deficits. Oh my goodness! How could they have been so blind?
Stephen Moore, president of Club for Growth, has been the most vocal Friedman critic. Moore calls Friedman a "deficit phobiac," adding, "Bush needs a true believer - someone who, if you cut them, bleeds supply side."
Bleeds supply side? I think Moore, who is a provocative economic thinker and a nice fellow, needs to relax a bit. While I'm not quite yet ready to endorse the triumvirate of Snow/Donaldson/Friedman as the supreme dream team of economic policy, all three are eminently qualified. And, in my opinion, they'll carry the president's economic agenda forward effectively.
There's no question we'll face a fierce debate over that agenda. We should look forward to it. And with all of the challenges frustrating this economy, that debate, no matter how impassioned, should be less ideological, less partisan and certainly less personal.
After all, unemployment is at an eight-year high, budget deficits are once again rising, the federal government currently faces unfunded federal benefit liabilities of around $20 trillion, and an uncertain economic recovery is under way. It's vital that the president and Congress implement policies that will drive growth.
But driving growth this time around will be particularly problematic. The supply-siders will likely have to yield on some of their most treasured tenets - that is, an almost overwhelming disregard of budget deficits in favor of broad, deep tax cuts. I love tax cuts as much as anyone. But we are in a war against radical Islamists, and we may soon be in a war against Iraq. The financial burden of military conflict, in addition to the possibility of a weakening economic recovery, mean that the president and Congress face extraordinarily difficult fiscal choices.
We'd all like to see lower taxes. Many of us, in fact, would like to see much lower taxes and a complete overhaul of the often archaic tax code. But the supply-side acolytes will likely not have their way on tax cuts. Neither will the acolytes of John Maynard Keynes who'd like to see the federal government spend billions to stimulate the economy, nor the deficit hawks who'd like to insist upon a balanced federal budget.
In a perfect world, prosperous and free of strife, we could demand lower taxes and insist on a balanced budget. This world of ours is now hardly perfect.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
12/09/02: A lot rides on prez's Treasury pick