- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

President-elect George W. Bush nominated four Cabinet members yesterday, including businessman Paul O'Neill as Treasury secretary, and vowed to stave off an economic slowdown by pressuring allies to boost oil production.
Mr. Bush called Mr. O'Neill, 65, the outgoing chairman of aluminum producer Alcoa, a "steady hand" who can call on vast experience to help reverse an economic downturn.
"Our economy is showing warning signs of a possible slowdown," Mr. Bush told reporters in Austin, Texas. "We must work to keep our economy strong. That's why we share a commitment to fair and responsible tax relief and a strong commitment to making sure there is free trade in our world."
In addition to Mr. O'Neill, Mr. Bush nominated three other Cabinet members yesterday:
Ann Veneman, former California agriculture director, as agriculture secretary.
Mel Martinez, chairman of the Orange County, Fla., governing board, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Don Evans, Mr. Bush's campaign chairman and president of an independent energy firm, as commerce secretary.
With those announcements, Mr. Bush has filled five out of 14 Cabinet posts in the week since Vice President Al Gore conceded the election. Cabinet nominees must be confirmed by the Senate.
Mr. Bush also packed up his things in the Texas Capitol yesterday as he prepared to turn over the governor's office to Republican Lt. Gov. Rick Perry today.
"I'm going to miss this place. I'll always be a Texan," Mr. Bush told reporters. "I'm packing up my baseballs."
"There's a lot of fond memories there," he added. "But on the other hand, I'm looking forward to my new assignment. I'm optimistic and enthusiastic about what lies ahead."
What lies ahead immediately are more announcements about top administration jobs. Republican sources said Mr. Bush is likely to tap two more nominees from the ranks of Republican governors Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin as secretary of health and human services, and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
Yesterday, Mr. O'Neill had the stage to himself in the morning, a sign that Mr. Bush considers his position crucial as the transition team prepares to tackle the challenge of a weakening economy.
Mr. Bush said an essential element of his short-term economic plan will be persuading oil-producing nations to increase output and ease the high cost of gasoline and home-heating oil.
"They've got to treat their friend, the United States, and our market with ease," Mr. Bush said of oil-producing nations. "They can't be punishing [their] friend.
"We're going to have to work with our friends and allies overseas, particularly with the price of crude oil and heating oil, to make sure they understand that."
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meets on Jan. 17, just three days before Mr. Bush is inaugurated. OPEC has agreed four times in the past year to increase production, but the cartel is expected to seriously consider cutting output to keep crude oil prices from dropping.
Mr. O'Neill has known Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney since they both worked in the Ford administration. He also has known Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan since 1969.
"We go back a long way," he said.
The Bush team is eager to please Mr. Greenspan, who has voiced opposition to the size of Mr. Bush's proposed $1.3 trillion tax cut over 10 years. And Mr. O'Neill differs with Mr. Greenspan's belief that economic growth of 5 percent cannot be sustained for long periods in a tight labor market.
"It is true that I'm one who believes that we can operate at higher levels than most economists would have told you 20 years ago were possible," Mr. O'Neill said yesterday. "But I also understand my place in this, and that place is to let Alan Greenspan make monetary policy.
"I am here substantially because I believe the president-elect has the right ideas about where our economy should go," he said. "It's desperately important to everything else we care about in our lives, and about leading the world, that we have a strong and vibrant economy."
Miss Veneman, 51, was the No. 2 person in the Agriculture Department under Mr. Bush's father, former President George Bush. She was also co-chairman of the Bush campaign in California.
Mr. Bush called her "bright" and "capable."
"It says a good deal about your commitment to agriculture that one of your first appointments is that of secretary of agriculture," she told Mr. Bush. "It's important that we work together to expand markets for our food and fiber both at home and abroad."
Mr. Martinez is a native of Cuba who came to the United States alone at age 15 to escape the Castro regime. He was reunited with his parents four years later and rose in Florida politics to become an ally of the president-elect's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Today for me is the fulfillment of the promise of America," said Mr. Martinez. "I will work hard to ensure that every American has every opportunity to have affordable housing. This is a vital element of compassionate conservatism."
Mr. Evans, 54, has been a friend of Mr. Bush's for more than 25 years. He is president of Tom Brown Inc., a Denver-based oil and natural-gas company with an office in Midland, Texas.
"Let me begin by saying thank you to an old friend who's offered me a new challenge," said Mr. Evans. "Now is no time for small plans or shrinking ambitions."
Today, Mr. Bush will meet with Latino leaders in Austin and also confer with a bipartisan delegation from Congress about his education agenda. On Friday, he will meet with agricultural leaders from across the nation.
Also today, Mr. Cheney will meet with his adversary in the election, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, in a morning event at the U.S. Capitol.
In response to reporters' questions yesterday, Mr. Bush said he would not comment on a possible meeting of President Clinton with North Korean leaders, stating that Mr. Clinton is the only voice for American foreign policy until Jan. 20.

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