Today brings us the economic-policy chapter of the big Washington Post series on how Dick Cheney runs America. It’s not nearly as dramatic or sinister-seeming as yesterday’s installment on torture ‘n’ stuff. Economic policy is like that, I guess.
One big takeaway is that economic policy in the Bush administration is run not by the Treasury Secretary, as it was in the Clinton years (at least after Lloyd Bentsen retired), but by the Vice President. Which at least seems better than having it run by some junior political aide in a cubbyhole office in the West Wing, although from the Post account it looks like it was mostly political considerations, combined with a very facile supply-side view of how the economy works, that drove Cheney’s thinking on the subject. It’s entirely possible that there was more to it that; this was clearly not a topic that Post reporters Jo Becker and Bart Gellman were especially psyched to write about.
In any case, the legacy Cheney leaves behind on the economic front are persistent budget deficits (albeit, I always feel obliged to point out, much smaller deficits relative to GDP than those of the 1980s and early 1990s), an economy that’s still growing and dynamic but has clearly seen better days, and a bunch of huge, as-yet unresolved problems, from the U.S. trade relationship with China to the future funding of Social Security and especially Medicare. Apparently Cheney was against the expensive new Medicare drug benefit, but he was accommodating enough to let the President have his way on that.
Oh, and one other interesting moment in the article. Ed Lazear apparently needed Cheney to tell him that the mortgage-interest tax deduction is popular:
When Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, broached the idea of limiting the popular mortgage tax deduction, he said he quickly dropped it after Cheney told him it would never fly with Congress. “He’s a big timesaver for us in that he takes off the table a lot of things he knows aren’t going to go anywhere,” Lazear said.
And really, making policy in Washington is all about saving time, right?