O'Neill Says He, Not Bush, Is Administration Dollar Spokesman

By BridgeNews U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill sought to stamp his authority on currency policy July 23, arguing he was the economics spokesman for the U.S. government, not President George Bush. Questioned by reporters in London about whether comments Bush made last week indicated a change in the long-standing strong dollar policy, O'Neill said that he had repeatedly stated the administration's thinking on the dollar over the last week. Perhaps seeking to settle the matter once and for all, O'Neill noted that when Bush appointed him, "he said ... that I was his economics spokesman, so don't listen to anyone else." In the past week O'Neill and aides have been forced to say on four separate occasions that the Treasury has not changed its dollar policy, which since 1995 has been to claim that a strong dollar remains in the interests of the U.S. Those statements came against the backdrop of manufacturers' complaints about the dollar's value, but also after Bush had spoken widely about how his administration viewed foreign exchange and financial markets. Among the president's comments were the observation that a strong dollar undermined exports and the pledge that policymakers would not intervene in financial markets, which he said were responsible for setting a currency's value. Such remarks prompted some in financial markets to suspect that the White House was softening its stance towards dollar policy at a time when the currency sits at 15-year highs on a trade-weighted basis. While not citing Bush specifically O'Neill said that not all in government "understand the nuances and subtleties that money-market people attach to talking out loud" about the dollar.

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