As the Bush Administration's treasury secretary, John Snow has HAD the job of selling the President's tax cut and trying to put the best face on rising unemployment. In a week of welcome news--that the economy grew a torrid 7.2% over the summer, the fastest pace since 1984--he spoke with TIME's Adam Zagorin about what lies ahead.
SO, IS THE ECONOMY TURNING AROUND? Yes, I think we're beginning to see a very good, solid and sustainable recovery. But there's much more to be done. We can't rest until everyone who's looking for a job gets one.
BUT MANY AMERICANS DON'T FEEL AS IF THE PROSPERITY HAS REACHED THEM YET. WHY NOT? You're talking about jobs, and we're disappointed with the job numbers so far. But we are beginning to see some positive signs. The 57,000 additional jobs in September, the fact that total hours of work are up--that temporary jobs are up--are all good indicators that we're beginning to turn the corner.
YOU RECENTLY SUGGESTED THAT THE ECONOMY WOULD GENERATE 200,000 JOBS A MONTH FOR THE NEXT YEAR. ARE YOU STILL COMFORTABLE WITH THOSE NUMBERS? The numbers I cited were private-sector estimates. For good reason, I'm not in the business of making personal estimates. But I do feel that with a continuing strong recovery, we will see jobs pick up in the months ahead.
IS HIGH PRODUCTIVITY SLOWING JOB GROWTH? The productivity numbers are excellent. That means higher real wages for workers, higher profitability for companies. It's helped fuel stock-price increases. Fundamentally, it means American workers and companies are becoming even more competitive.
ADMINISTRATION CRITICS SAY CHINA IS SIPHONING AWAY TOO MANY U.S. JOBS AND IS KEEPING ITS CURRENCY TOO LOW. WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT? I have called attention to the fact that we are not happy with how China is handling its currency, and we have been pressing them to go to a free-market exchange rate and to remove capital controls so that their currency will reflect the basic forces of demand and supply. That way we'll know that it's fair, that American workers and firms aren't being hurt by an artificially set currency. We're going to stay engaged on that.
YOU CAME INTO OFFICE WITH A LONG HISTORY AS A DEFICIT HAWK. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ADMINISTRATION'S RECORD DEFICITS? Well, they're unwelcome. The President has said we're unhappy with them, and we're committed to seeing them significantly reduced--cut in half within the next five years.
AND HOW WILL YOU DO THAT, GIVEN THE LIKELIHOOD OF FUTURE TAX CUTS? No decision has been made on future tax cuts. And that's the President's decision. But reducing the deficit comes from two things. One is the larger tax revenues we'll see as the economy kicks into higher gear. The other is controlling spending. The President has been firm on that: he wants spending tightly controlled.
THERE'S A NEW $20 BILL OUT THAT CHANGES COLOR FROM COPPER TO GREEN. DOES THAT LOOK LIKE REAL MONEY TO YOU? [He laughs] It is real money. It's different for a very important reason--it's much more difficult to counterfeit because the exact shades are almost impossible to reproduce.