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SABRINA BIRMINGHAM The Chairman’s Stances Henry B. Gonzalez on Currency Trading BY DAN CARNEY Washington, D.C. OT LONG AGO, Henry B. Gonzalez was looking down from his perch in the chairman’s seat at the House Banking Committee, eyeing a Treasury undersecretary with whom he was politely disagreeing. Behind him was a row of aides, sitting in folding chairs tucked away behind the third and highest panel of members of Congress. Occasionally an aide would hand Gonzalez a note or whisper something into his ear, causing him to refine his line of questioning or make a new point. Gonzalez was certainly in his element. Since the S&L fiasco made the House Banking chairmanship into a superstar role, the San Antonio Democrat has often presided over his 50-member committee with a kindly disposition, looking not unlike a grandfather posing with his extended family. A typical Gonzalez hearing is full of commendations of his colleagues and only the most polite of rebukes. Gonzalez never tells anyone he is wrong; instead he will say something like “perhaps the distinguished gentleman from such-and-such state is unaware of the events that transpired last week which make his comments, perhaps, a little less relevant to our discussion.” His witnesses, too, are treated with courtesy and civility, no matter how much of a disservice Gonzalez believes they are doing to the American public. His hearings are, as a rule, well-attended and he is treated with the deference of a man who has becomo one of the most powerful members of Congress. During this particular hearing the room is full of lawyers, lobbyists, reporters, and the usual crowd of banking-legislation groupies. But this time, there is something different. It being the August recess, his extended family had dispersed across the country to shore up its reelection prospects, leaving 49 empty chairs and microphones around the 74-yearold chairman. “Anyone would tell you, there is no political mileage in this,” Gonzalez told his witness, Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs David Mulford. “If there were, half of these seats would be filled.” The hearing was called to examine a couple of Treasury Department practices. The first is the buying and selling of billions of dollars in foreign currency in an attempt to moderate Dan Carney is a writer for States News Service in Washington D.C. Henry B. Gonzalez price gyrations. The second is the bailout plan the Treasury worked out with the government of Mexico. Gonzalez argues that both the currency dealings and the selling of so-called zerocoupon bonds to help Mexico out of its financial problems amount to no less than the executive branch overstepping its constitutional bounds by spending money that has not been authorized or appropriated by Congress. Neither of these are particularly big issues, and a younger or less-secure chairman might not even bother with such a technical topic when he could be raising money or kissing babies back home. But Gonzalez behaves like someone no longer tempted by the sins of politics and he has earned a reputation a statesman a stature few would have thought he would rise to just a few years ago. Time was when Gonzalez was considered quixotic, mercurial, and considerably less wise than he is today. Twice he has gotten into well-publicized scuffles, once on the floor of the House and once in a San Antonio restaurant; both were precipitated by someone calling him a communist. The latter incident attracted further attention when Gonzalez spoke on the House floor to circumvent a gag order issued by a judge. At the front of an empty chamber but THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13