George W. Bush has chosen a nominee to replace ousted Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. More precisely, the president has rubber-stamped a selection made by Vice President Dick Cheney.
As with the outgoing Cabinet member, the man designated to take O’Neill’s place, CSX Chairman John Snow, is a longtime crony of Cheney.
In Snow’s case, the tie goes back at least to the mid-1970s, when Snow served as deputy undersecretary of the Transportation Department and administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration under President Gerald Ford, whom Cheney served as chief of staff.
Just as Cheney parlayed a position as secretary of defense in the first Bush’s White House into a big-money job at the helm of Halliburton, a defense contractor he had formerly “regulated,” Snow parlayed his Transportation Department post into a big-money job with Chessie System (CSX), a transportation conglomerate he used to regulate.
Now Cheney is back in charge and Snow is preparing to step once more through the revolving door – this time to serve as the president’s top adviser on tax and fiscal issues. Just as Cheney has used the vice presidency to serve the interests of Halliburton, Snow will be in a position to deliver for CSX and other corporations to which he is tied as a former chairman of the Business Roundtable.
Members of the U.S. Senate, who are charged under the Constitution with the task of determining whether Cabinet nominees meet the standards that should be set for government service, should uphold that responsibility by closely examining Snow’s troubling pattern of turning government service to personal and corporate advantage. They should also analyze the even more serious question of whether, as the nation’s secretary of the treasury, Snow is capable of serving the best interests of the United States or simply of corporate America.
On the plus side, Snow was a reasonably outspoken critic of the corporate corruption exposed when Enron collapsed in late 2001. “The scandals, the breakdowns, the collapses, the fraud, the misconduct that was so apparent in the Enrons and the Tycos and the Global Crossings has shaken our confidence,” Snow told a forum at which he said a failure by corporations to change the way they do business would make it necessary for Congress and federal regulators to step in.
Corporations have not reformed and, so far, Congress has done a haphazard job of pressing them to do so. As part of the confirmation process, Snow ought to be asked by senators to explain what exactly he believes should be done to crack down on continuing corporate crime and bad faith.
While they’re at it, senators should ask Snow to discuss his attitudes regarding federal involvement with American industries, since he has sent decidedly mixed signals in this area. A longtime proponent of deregulation, he did not hesitate to accept federal aid that helped CSX. If Snow is one of these CEOs who believe government is a bad player unless it is lining his pockets, the country would be better off without his thumb on the scale that weighs federal business policy.
Finally, Snow should be required to discuss the extent to which his past forays into government “service” might have benefited CSX, and whether his confirmation would lead to further benefits for CSX and other corporations with which he has ties.
Dick Cheney’s recruitment of Snow should be viewed skeptically by the Senate. The Bush-Cheney White House has tended too frequently to serve as an outpost of corporate America. With the American economy in a perilous place, we do not need to be “rescued” by someone whose first priority is taking care of himself and his corporate cronies.