WASHINGTON - In the early 1980s, the influence of the
president's Council of Economic Advisers had fallen to such a low
ebb that upon his re-election Ronald Reagan seriously entertained
the idea of abolishing it.
And if Congress resisted, the reasoning at the White House went,
the president could simply refuse to make appointments to the
Not only did the Council survive but, under President Bush, it
also seems to be making a comeback that some in the capital say may
soon be inviting comparisons with the halcyon days of Walter W.
Heller, the tax-cut proponent who advised Presidents John F. Kennedy
and Lyndon B. Johnson and, a decade later, of Alan Greenspan, the
chief economic adviser to President Gerald R. Ford.
There is little doubt that the Council's resurgence, seen most
clearly so far in the areas of trade and clean air, rests mainly on
the personal chemistry of its current chairman, Michael J. Boskin, a
43-year-old professor of economics on leave from Stanford University,
and his only client, Bush, a man with considerable respect for
This relationship, cultivated also on the tennis court, involves
frequent meetings, memo-writing and late-night phone calls when the
president wants to follow up.
But many observers, including people around the Council, see
additional factors at work in the panel's revival.
One is that Boskin, although relatively new to the ways of
Washington, has proved highly adept in advancing his views.
Reagan dealt with his Council chiefs mainly through
subordinates. One chairman in the Reagan presidency, Martin S.
Feldstein of Harvard, sometimes felt obliged to take public
positions at odds with those of his boss.
Feldstein is said to have been eager to preserve his academic
reputation, but his disagreements may also have reflected an
inability to make his voice heard in the Reagan White House.
But Boskin appears content with moving the center of gravity
rather than insisting on total victory.
``He's sensitive to the political process,'' said David D. Hale,
a Chicago economist who also gives Boskin high marks for resisting
the not inconsiderable amount of ``Japan baiting'' in Congress and
among various interest groups.
Murray L. Weidenbaum, Reagan's first chairman of the Council of
Economic Advisers, said Boskin had also benefited by coming to his
post at the beginning of an administration.
Moreover, he said, the Bush administration has managed to avoid
visible squabbling. ``The degree of leaking in this White House has
come way down,'' Weidenbaum said.
For his part, Boskin is reluctant to take credit for the
Council's new-found and widely acknowledged esteem. …