WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday approved the nomination of Henry Paulson Jr., who was chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group for seven years, to be the nation’s next treasury secretary.

With broad bipartisan support, Paulson, 60, was confirmed by voice vote after the Senate Finance Committee endorsed the nomination. The approval means Paulson, a 32-year veteran of Wall Street, will succeed John Snow and become the Bush administration’s chief economic salesman during a period of inflation concerns and slowing growth in some sectors.

At a hearing on his nomination Tuesday, Paulson testified that the U.S. should prod China to move faster on economic reforms and supported the administration’s tax and spending policies. Paulson also said he would review a once-secret program in which the government gained access to information on international financial transactions to prevent terrorism.

“He has a strong foot in reality from his Midwest farming background, but he also has a very strong background in financial expertise and respect on Wall Street,” said Sen. Christopher S. “Kit” Bond (R., Mo.). “This is a time when we have many, many serious issues. Having him confirmed by this body will be a great asset to us in dealing with everything from international negotiations, terrorism financing and other significant economic challenges.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who supported Paulson, urged him to “fight harder than his predecessor [John Snow] in promoting trade that is aggressive and fair. I also hope he will push for a tougher, more proactive stance when it comes to China.”

Paulson has had extensive business dealings with the financial community in China. He told the finance committee that China will not be able to reach a freely floating currency that is set by market forces until it has a modern, functioning banking system. He stressed that the country has progressed in accepting an open capital market system and flexible exchange rate, but needs to move faster.

He did not disclose his strategy for pressing China to move more quickly on currency reform, but there is increasing pressure from Congress to clamp down on what many officials charge are China’s unfair and illegal currency policies and trade practices.

This story first appeared in the June 29, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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