The Senate Finance Committee's confirmation hearing for Treasury Secretary-nominee Henry Paulson got off to a smooth start this week.

Paulson, 60, the chairman and chief executive of investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, would become President Bush's third Treasury secretary if confirmed as expected.

A Wall Street fixture for more than three decades, Paulson told the committee that in the cabinet position he would work to improve the country's global competitiveness by ensuring that companies are treated fairly in trade matters, and by keeping taxes down.

Paulson said that the United States must also come to terms with the unfunded obligations of the Social Security and Medicare programs, and that he wished the federal budget deficit was lower -- though he added that the budget shortfalls remain in the realm of historical norms. He also promised inquiring senators that a top priority would be getting a deep understanding of a Treasury Department program that tracks activity by suspect terrorist financers.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said that he hopes the full Senate will approve the nomination before the July 4 congressional recess.

The White House announced last week that Paulson would sell off the more than $470 million he owns in Goldman Sachs stock to comply with conflict-of-interest provisions. Paulson earned more than $35 million from the firm last year alone, and has a net worth estimated to be above $700 million.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow made his long-rumored departure a reality in May, when he announced that he was planning on resigning from the post after three years.

Paulson's hearing pushed back the committee's originally scheduled hearing, on the nomination of Treasury deputy assistant secretary Eric Solomon to be the assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax policy. The position has been open since February 2004.

Previously on WebCPA:

Snow Steps Aside, Goldman Sachs CEO Moves In (May 31, 2006)

Bush Nominates Treasury Official to Tax Post (May 10, 2006)

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