Swift approval seen for Treasury choice

President Bush yesterday named Goldman Sachs chief Hank Paulson his new treasury secretary, giving a welcome boost to congressional Republicans hoping for a more potent White House economic message to parlay into election-year gains.

Naming a replacement to John Snow is the latest White House personnel move executed since Joshua Bolten, also a former Goldman Sachs executive, became White House chief of staff last month. But while Gen. Michael Hayden, the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and incoming Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne faced a few bumps in the road to their Senate confirmation, Paulson is likely to earn quick approval.

“It’s encouraging that he grew up on a farm and carried that background to Wall Street,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said yesterday. His panel will schedule a confirmation hearing as soon as possible, he said. 

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) also predicted swift confirmation yesterday.

Though a perennial critic of the administration’s China policy, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement pledging support for Paulson.

“His experience, intelligence and deep understanding of national and global economic issues make him the best pick America could have hoped for,” Schumer said.

Paulson’s ability to soothe congressional anxiety over the mushrooming U.S.-China trade deficit could help smooth his transition at the Treasury Department. Goldman was a major player in the bankrolling of last week’s record-breaking initial public offering by the Bank of China.

Paulson shared chief executive duties at Goldman with New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) before Corzine won his Senate seat in 2000, and his 2002 speech calling for strict corporate-governance laws to repair the Enron-shaken markets raised eyebrows. Yet he has confined his heavy political giving to Republican candidates.

“Paulson may be buying into an administration where the future, economically, doesn’t look as bright as in the past,” said Mallory Factor, head of the conservative Free Enterprise Fund. “But Goldman, and Goldman people, have been trained better than almost anyone to buy into undervalued situations” and improve them.

The Fund has charged Paulson with letting his role as chairman of the Nature Conservancy environmental group interfere with his leadership of Goldman.