Fri, May 02, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Cult of Greenspan mulls renomination


Then US president Ronald Reagan turns to Alan Greenspan, second from left, after Greenspan was sworn-in as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in this photo from August 1987. Then vice president George Bush is at left. Greenspan has had his hand on the US economy's tiller during a recession, another long stretch of prosperity, another recession and most recently a halting recovery.


US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan appeared Wednesday before a committee in the US House of Representatives, eight days after undergoing prostate surgery.

The 77-year-old has become an icon of the US business community in his 16 years as chief of the central bank. His speeches are carefully parsed by investors looking for hints to future interest rate moves, and his health and public appearances are closely watched on Wall Street.

He is likely to be an octogenarian before relinquishing the helm of US monetary policy, having won enthusiastic support over the years from three Republican presidents, one Democrat president and hundreds of members of Congress.

Balding and bespectacled, the fit-looking Greenspan was back at work shortly after his April 22 procedure to treat a non-cancerous, enlarged prostate gland. He has been married since 1997 to a much younger woman, television journalist Andrea Mitchell.

Congressman Barney Frank, a leftwing Democrat and open homosexual, praised Greenspan as a role model for the elderly.

"I have had a long-time interest in trying to rebut stereotypes. And, Mr. Greenspan, I mean this quite seriously, for you, given where you are, what you've done, your age, your health, for you to be continuing as if none of this was of any moment, and that the only important thing was doing your job, really is an important lesson that I hope other people learn from," Frank said.

"So I appreciate not just what you do, but the way in which you do it, he said.

Frank drew laughter and even a grin from the normally wry-faced Greenspan by apologizing "for making a big deal out of something, which I am congratulating you for not making a big deal out of."

Congressman Peter King, a Republican, chimed in similarly.

"I commend you on your quick recovery and on your stamina," he told Greenspan. "If it was me [having prostate surgery], I'd probably use it as an excuse to take six weeks off and tell my constituents how sick I was and how they should pray for me."

Just as Greenspan was going under the knife last week, US President George W. Bush endorsed him for another term as Fed chairman. Greenspan later said he had "every intention" of accepting the renomination, which must be approved by the US Senate.

Greenspan's current term expires in June next year and his reappointment would extend for at least two years.

Congressman Michael Oxley, a Republican and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, typified the fawning praise that Greenspan has received for most of the last 16 years when he offered congratulations on the Fed chief's expected renomination.

"I'm sure I speak for the entire committee," Oxley told Greenspan, "when I say we appreciate the strong and steady hand you have exerted in the control of monetary policy."

Democrat Michael Capuano, after Greenspan had been testifying for nearly an hour, provided the latest stock market news to him.

"It's up about 46 points from the time you started speaking," he said. "So keep going. Don't stop."

Greenspan is known for a dense speaking style, constantly hedging the innumerable factors that econ-omists try to evaluate.

"Six weeks after the beginning of the war [in Iraq], we have only limited readings on broader economic conditions, and that information has been mixed," he said. "Households appear to have become somewhat less apprehensive about the economic outlook in recent weeks, though reports from businesses have not exhibited a similar improvement in tone."

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