Bush's Cabinet

 

The main thrust of Mr George W. Bush's senior appointments so far reveals that commitments to basic competence, economic consolidation and stronger security and defence will feature prominently in his administration. So will free trade, tax reduction and social security reform. He has clearly signalled a readiness to work in a bipartisan fashion with a divided Congress.

Mr Bush has also inherited a difficult set of economic circumstances, which are rapidly determining the immediate priorities of his incoming administration. Figures published yesterday show the US economy's growth has halved in the last quarter. Announcing the appointment of Mr Paul O'Neill as Treasury Secretary, Mr Bush said he would help guide a US economy that is beginning to show "warning signs of a possible slowdown". Mr O'Neill comes from a classical old economy background, with high competence in manufacturing and management, but little experience of financial markets or Wall Street. He is committed to Mr Bush's sweeping programme of reducing tax by 10.3 trillion dollars over 10 years, defended by the president-elect as being "all about economic growth". The idea that tax reductions can insulate the US economy from recession in the short term is disputed by many economists and analysts. They believe that is better accomplished by monetary policy under the direction of the Federal Reserve Board chairman, Mr Alan Greenspan. He is reported to be sceptical about the tax reduction package and will be a crucial symbol of continuity during a potentially turbulent period of economic transition. Mr O'Neill's working experience with Mr Greenspan was underlined by Mr Bush.

The president-elect has made it quite clear that stronger US security and defence policies are a major priority for the incoming administration. This is signalled by the appointment of Gen Colin Powell as Secretary of State, of Ms Condoleeza Rice as National Security Adviser, by the major policy-making role assigned to the incoming vice-president, Mr Dick Cheney, and the expected appointment today of Mr Dan Coats as Defence Secretary - a conservative who will reassure the military establishment. The consequences will be felt throughout the world - not least in Europe, where a different US approach is to be expected.

In appointing Ms Ann Veneman as Agriculture Secretary and Mr Mel Martinez as Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Mr Bush has reinforced the impression that he is sensitive to the need for minorities and women to be represented after a bruising campaign. None of these major appointments so far are from the hard ideological right-wing of the Republican party. They are close to Mr Bush and fully reflect his working style of delegating authority to competent and trusted appointees. It will be interesting to see whether the hundreds of second order appointments are drawn predominantly from the right-wing think tanks and those who gave the party the reputation for ideological dogmatism in the mid-1990s. That will be the real political test of the new administration.