- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

There is still some residual grumbling among congressional Republicans over Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill's criticism of the GOP's $100 billion economic-stimulus package that is expected to be approved by the House next week.
Mr. O'Neill, the administration's point man in the tax-cut debate, didn't have anything good to say about the bill soon after it was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee Friday on a party-line vote. In fact, he ridiculed some of its tax cuts as mere "show business" that would not survive the legislative process.
The bill did not fare much better at the White House, where it received a lukewarm response. The Bush administration thinks the bill's price tag is $25 billion too high and contains provisions, like a capital-gains tax cut, that it did not request and does not want.
With the House preparing to vote on a key administration proposal to rescue the economy, White House and Treasury officials softened their words earlier this week. But Republican lawmakers were described as "still irritated" with Mr. O'Neill when they gathered yesterday at a meeting to assess the bill's support.
"Members were complaining about O'Neill's remarks. There's still a lot of frustration with O'Neill who is becoming a bad word in conservative circles," said a House Republican official who attended the closed-door whip meeting.
Mr. O'Neill is known for his blunt speaking style, and during an appearance in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, he did not mince words about the Republicans' tax-cut bill.
"Part of what you saw on Friday last week was show business," he said. "It's an opportunity for people to say, 'I voted for the things that you want' with the expectations that we will come out with a package that doesn't do violence to the long-term financial stability of the country."
His remarks drew an usually brusque retort from Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who said, "Secretary O'Neill needs to restrain his comments until he's had a chance to communicate with more of us."
The White House was unusually cool in its response to the Republican plan that Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, had crafted and pushed through his committee.
"The president is confident that, in the end, this will become a bipartisan product," Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. "He calls on Democrats to be open-minded about this as well."
Shortly after Mr. O'Neill's criticisms were reported, a Treasury spokesman attempted to repair the damage, saying his comments were not intended as a sign of the administration's opposition to the bill and that he was "very pleased with the process" begun by the Ways and Means Committee.
Mr. O'Neill also softened his initial criticism, calling the plan "useful and important."
"If you look at the component parts the president asked for, they're all reflected in the House bill," he said.
But Democratic leaders quickly seized on the administration's criticism of a bill they hope to defeat. "I was pleased with the admonition of the White House with regard to the actions taken" in the House Ways and Means Committee, said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Mr. Thomas met privately with Mr. O'Neill this week to explain the bill's provisions and discuss their differences.

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