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Spinning the Economy

Think you're worried about the economy? Phillip Swagel is a wreck.

The assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, Swagel came out for his monthly economic briefing yesterday, 90 minutes after the Labor Department reported that the country had shed jobs in June for the sixth straight month.

Does this mean the economy is worse than the Bush administration expected?

"We shouldn't, in a sense, be surprised when the data are, are, soft," Swagel managed to say.

Does the economy need another stimulus package?

"I-it seems, you know, it seems like that's, that's enough, uh, enough."

What might trigger another round of economic stimulus?

"I don't, I guess I don't have an answer, I mean, you know, beyond saying we look at all the data and, um -- so, my usual line."

Okay, so it wasn't a strong performance. But let's cut Swagel some slack. He's a sharp economist (his PhD is from Harvard) and, in ordinary conversation, he suffers none of the speech difficulties that plagued him on the stage yesterday. His various roles in government, at the Council of Economic Advisers, the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund, were too junior for him to deserve any blame for the current economic troubles.

But Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who was in London yesterday, and Swagel's other superiors in the Bush administration left him with an impossible task: appearing on camera to put a favorable and reassuring gloss on an economy that has gone to the dogs.

Read the whole Sketch

-- Dana Milbank

By Dana Milbank  | July 4, 2008; 12:00 AM ET
 
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