The Federal Open Market Committees's secret transcripts, which are the object of a tug-of-war between Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzales, probably have a lot in common with sex, in that they are more exciting when details are left to the imagination.
Since the surprise revelation in October that the central bank has a stack of raw transcripts of its FOMC meetings dating back to March of the Bicentennial year, speculation about their contents has bordered on delirium.
Hardly the Watergate Tapes
A sampling of suppositions by pundits suggest that the close-door dialogues compare favorably with the Watergate tapes, the Packwood papers, and Kitty Kelley|s unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan.
As a reporter perpetually in search of a hot story, I can only hope this is so. But it's hard to imagine a group as sanguine as the FOMC saying anything worth repeating on Geraldo.
So why the excitement?
Chairman Greenspan himself inadvertently has been feeding the tabloidian speculation by behaving as though he were hiding a lunatic second cousin in his attic.
In a performance that would have made Professor Irwin Corey weep with admiration, Mr. Greenspan avoided drawing attention to the existence of transcripts during appearances befor the House Banking Committee on Oct. 13 and Oct. 19 to discuss FOMC record keeping.
The Oct. 13 testimony failed to mention the transcripts at all. The details in the Oct. 19 speech were like the needle buried in a haystack.
When Rep. Gonzales finally found the needle, it caused a sensation.
Mr. Greenspan's subsequent apologia for protecting the sanctity of the documents generated even more excitement because it sounded so much like the conspiratorial rhetoric of times past.
Dozens of news organizations immediately requested copies under the Freedom of Information Act.
Early release, Mr. Greenspan argued, would threaten the economy by stifling the creative process that goes on behind those closed doors (and I always thought they tossed a coin!).
In the name of democracy Mr. Greenspan did offer this horse trade to Rep. Gonzalez, who wants the transcripts released 60 days after every FOMC meeting:
* The Federal Open Market Committee will release transcripts that are edited to correct grammatical and technical mistakes five years after the fact. The first documents to be release would be those from 1988, which would be available next year.
Transcripts from prior years would be released as quickly as possible.
* Confidential stuff from foreign banks would be redacted.
Rep. Gonzalez responded that a five-year delay is "arbitrary and without rational basis." And he said he was concerned that the Fed might be too liberal with its editing.
He threatened legislation to resolve the matter.
A Deal Seems Likely
This sounds like real progress. I expect a deal to be struck allowing the Fed some editorial discretion and a delay of more than 60 days but less than five years, which will benefit the public without injuring the FOMC.
The reason for a deal is that Mr. Greenspan is negotiating from a position of weakness. He farcically lost the high ground to Rep. Gonzalez by stooping to obfuscation.
It was the type of disdain for accountability that Rep. Gonzalez is trying to combat.