Bentsen to lead Treasury team

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The Independent Online
BILL CLINTON has picked Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas to be his Treasury Secretary - the US government's chief financial officer - underlining the President- elect's wish to see experienced Democratic politicians from Congress in senior cabinet posts. Senator Bentsen, 71, who is regarded as being on the right wing of the Democratic party, is at present chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The appointment, to be formally announced on Wednesday or Thursday, will reassure Wall Street that Mr Clinton does not plan radical economic restructuring and will give priority to reducing the deficit. The deputy treasury secretary is expected to be Roger Altman, a Wall Street investment banker who went to university with Mr Clinton and who is also seen as being conservative.

A danger for Mr Clinton is that the Democrats will lose Senator Bentsen's seat in Texas, which voted for Mr Bush in the presidential election. Having just lost a run-off Senate election in Georgia, a second loss would be a defeat of some significance early in the Clinton administration.

Senator Bentsen, son of a wealthy Texas landowner, was first elected to Congress in 1948 at the age of 27. Having left Congress to make his own money running an insurance company, he won his seat in the Senate in 1970, in a famous battle in which he defeated George Bush. In 1976, hobbled by his reputation as a Washington insider, he got nowhere as Democratic presidential candidate, but in 1988 his effectiveness as the vice-presidential candidate made him nationally known.

In a television debate with Dan Quayle, the Republican vice- presidential nominee in that year, Senator Bentsen was the author of a famed putdown. To Mr Quayle, comparing himself to Jack Kennedy, Mr Bentsen responded: 'I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.' Despite protests from Texas that Senator Bentsen scarcely knew Kennedy and certainly was not a friend, Mr Quayle never quite recovered from this squelching.

Less well known is Senator Bentsen's response in 1988 to the Republican claim to have produced a strong economy: 'If you let me write dollars 200bn in hot cheques every year, I'd give you the illusion of prosperity too.'

As chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Senator Bentsen gained a reputation for being a skilled and well- organised politician, channelling detailed tax and health-care plans through Congress. A significant pointer to Clinton trade policy is that he favours free trade.