The US in transition: The economy: Senators stroke purring Bentsen into Treasury

WHOEVER said the US Senate wasn't the cosiest club in the world? Yesterday, in a display of unctuous camaraderie remarkable even by its own standards, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved Lloyd Bentsen as Treasury Secretary in 17 minutes flat, before even the most cursory inquiry as to what he might actually do in the job.

No offence is meant to Mr Bentsen, a man of undoubted and proven merit. But it was a scene to make the blood boil of anyone who would reform Capitol Hill; a foregone conclusion worked out by a small, all-male, all-white and mostly elderly group of senators in which a nominee and his supposed interrogators exchanged compliments like the finest frankincense.

In reality, of course, nothing less was to be expected. From 1986 until last month's summons by president-elect Bill Clinton to higher things, Mr Bentsen had been chairman of the committee which yesterday recommended his confirmation; to have queried his selection, let alone reject it, would have been akin to the College of Cardinals throwing out the Pope.

In the event, not a whiff of lese-majeste was in the air. 'There is no man I respect more than Lloyd Bentsen,' oozed Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana in introduction. From the Republicans too it was the same sweet song: 'You're guaranteed my vote in advance,' purred Senator Phil Gramm, Mr Bentsen's colleague from Texas.

And, owlishly graceful and courtly as ever, Mr Bentsen responded with a line that could have come from an after-dinner speech at the Athenaeum: 'All this reminds me of the story of the old gentleman who received such a generous introduction - 'Be not surprised,' he said, 'It is but I' ' Thus does the US Senate treat its own.

For every Clinton nominee, the story has been the same. All have been spared embarrassment, even that unrepentant lobbyist and power- broker, Ron Brown, whose kidglove treatment during his hearing as Commerce Secretary last week had the New York Times spluttering with rage.

Yesterday, there was ample opportunity to embarrass the 71-year-old Mr Bentsen, not least over his sponsorship last year of a bill cutting middle-class taxes which was vetoed by President Bush. Mr Clinton, of course, is rowing back from his campaign promise of exactly such a fiscal boost as fast as he decently can. But Mr Bentsen blandly said no decision had yet been taken.

Just possibly, however, there may be surprises in store. Today sees the turn of Warren Christopher, that other great designated patriarch of the incoming administration. The Associated Press has unearthed an embarrassing 1960s memo suggesting that the 68- year-old Mr Christopher, the secretary of state-to-be who is ascribed almost saint-like qualities by the press, may have later concealed knowledge of clandestine army surveillance of anti-Vietnam war agitators, when he was deputy attorney-general under President Lyndon Johnson.

The revelation has had Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members and Christopher aides scrambling in panic. But if yesterday's proceedings are anything to go by, the damage control will be successful. Mr Christopher probably need lose no sleep. But he may not quite be confirmed without a question.

Andrew Marr, page 21

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor