Reid sticks by Greenspan comments

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has no regrets for denouncing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as “one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington” in a television interview Thursday and will not retract the statement.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said yesterday the Nevada Democrat “has the courage of his convictions and is not walking away from his comments at all.”

Mr. Reid made the statement about Mr. Greenspan in an interview with Judy Woodruff on CNN’s “Inside Politics.” Mr. Manley said the senator believes his description of Mr. Greenspan as a “political hack” was appropriate.

“What other explanation is there for his [Mr. Greenspan’s] apparent willingness to repeatedly go before Congress and promote the president’s plan to privatize Social Security?” the spokesman asked.

But Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, condemned Mr. Reid’s political attack, which he characterized as both “undercutting the country’s credibility” and “hurting U.S. markets,” given that Mr. Greenspan is the “very man who determines U.S. economic policy.”

“For decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have depended on the steady economic leadership of Chairman Greenspan. Alan Greenspan is an economic genius, and Senator Reid knows better,” Mr. Foley said.

In the interview Thursday, Mr. Reid reiterated his opposition to President Bush’s plan to overhaul and privatize Social Security. Unlike the White House, Mr. Reid said he does not believe the program “is in crisis.”

“If we did nothing, people would draw 100 percent of benefits for the next 50 years. If we still did nothing, they would draw 75 or 80 percent of the benefits,” the senator said.

But when Miss Woodruff noted that in congressional testimony Wednesday and Thursday Mr. Greenspan argued that Social Security’s financial problems “need to be addressed urgently,” Mr. Reid quickly retorted: “I’m not a big Greenspan fan. … I voted against him the last two times. I think he’s one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington.”

Explaining his reservations about the Fed chief, Mr. Reid said that when President Clinton was in the White House and Democrats controlled the Senate, Mr. Greenspan held that the government’s biggest problem was the deficit.

“We, during the Clinton years, paid down the debt by about half a trillion dollars. We had a $7 trillion surplus when Bush took office. Now we have a $3 [trillion] or $4 trillion deficit … Greenspan should be telling people” about that, the Nevada Democrat said.

Asked about Mr. Reid’s characterization of Mr. Greenspan, Fed spokesman Dave Skidmore said the agency was not commenting on it.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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