Treasury Secretary John Snow gave a press conference this morning on a trading floor of the investment bank Lehman Brothers, in midtown Manhattan. Flanked by Lehman's top executives, Snow first strolled from one row of desks to the next, as approximately 400 bonds traders sporting sharp neckties looked on. When the entourage reached each row, traders in that column would sit at attention, perhaps to appear extra-respectful or professional. After Snow had passed, the grinning traders hopped to their feet, and phoned their pals to flip on CNBC to catch a glimpse of them in the background.
The event was part of a two-day series of meetings that Snow is holding on Wall Street to assure the financial markets that the administration's plan to reform Social Security, while inchoate, is nevertheless fundamentally sound.
Having surveyed the troops, Snow said he was delighted to visit Lehman Brothers' trading floor-"the engine room of capitalism," he called it. He then answered a series of questions from the press about Social Security, concluding that "Wall Street will applaud a real fix to Social Security." (Snow reiterated that the President will not consider raising the payroll tax as part of that "real fix," but declined to offer any clues as to what steps the President would take instead.)
Snow's comments underscored a fact that has become obvious since the election: Social Security reform is certainly the President's No. 1 economic priority; and everything else on his agenda is pretty clearly backburnered. Indeed, only 40 minutes into Snow's 45-minute visit did he mention a policy that would be of direct interest to entrepreneurs, when he noted that the administration sought "to rein in health care costs," adding that "there are a number of initiatives there." Entrepreneurs, of course, might argue that reining in health care costs is need more urgently than revising Social Security. Entrepreneurs might also argue that there is no single "engine room" of capitalism; that the U.S. economy is powered by thousands of hard-working business owners and their employees, rather than 400 smart guys working in one big room together.
To be fair, Snow was a guest of Lehman Brothers and Lehman Brothers' bond trading floor isn't necessarily the right place to talk about matters of importance to entrepreneurs. And yet, the President himself often extols the virtues of entrepreneurs in his speeches, and speaks of further strengthening America's "Ownership Society." In return for these kind words, entrepreneurs rewarded Bush in the last election with arguably more unified political support than any other group, with the exception of religious people. It would be nice to receive some signal now from the adminstration that issues on which employers and small business owners have long sought action are not going to be ignored while the White House marshals its formidable political resources to make headway on its plan to change Social Security.