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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own