The O’Neill Death Watch, Part 5

An ongoing series on the occupational travails of the treasury secretary.

The White House disputes a story by Beth Piskora in the Dec. 4 New York Post that says Vice President Dick Cheney has met with potential replacements for Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, including UBS PaineWebber Chairman Donald Marron and former Credit Suisse First Boston Vice Chairman Jack Hennessy. “Total garbage,” said a spokesman for Dick Cheney, according to Al Kamen’s “In the Loop” column in the Dec. 5 Washington Post. As seasoned Washington observers well know, “White House Denies Cabinet Officer Will Be Replaced” is a headline that always precedes, usually by no more than a couple of weeks, “White House Replaces Cabinet Officer.” O’Neill’s personal response to the story, related to Lawrence Kudlow and James Cramer last night on CNBC’s America Now, did little to dispel this impression:

Someone reported to me that there was an indication that I was—I was going to be replaced by one or two other individuals. And, you know, when I—when it was first told to me, I thought to myself, “Hallelujah.”

As Cramer pointed out, “That isn’t what I would say if I felt that I was in for another couple, three more years at the job.”

On the other hand, Alan Greenspan showed up yesterday at O’Neill’s 66th birthday party. According to Martin Crutsinger of the Associated Press, it was the first time Greenspan had appeared in the Treasury Department press room since he became Fed chairman 14 years ago. Greenspan’s drop-by might conceivably signal that O’Neill’s stock is headed north. More likely, though, it signals that Greenspan’s stock is headed south. We are, after all, in a recession.

(For earlier entries in the O’Neill death watch, click here, here, here, and here.)