- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

A growing number of conservatives in Congress are clamoring behind the scenes for the White House to fire Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, who recently criticized an economic stimulus plan in the House as "show business."
"There's an open revolt among conservatives against O'NeilI," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth in Washington, which supports conservative candidates for Congress.
"He's becoming the Dick Darman of the administration," Mr. Moore added, referring to the unpopular White House budget director under the previous Bush administration.
Mr. O'Neill has been angering conservative lawmakers ever since his confirmation hearing, with testimony to Congress that conservatives felt undercut their arguments for tax cuts. But they say his criticism of the House economic stimulus package, which contains about $100 billion in tax relief in the first year, was the last straw.
A senior House Republican aide attended a meeting of about 30 lawmakers last week and said "not one member rose to [ONeills] defense. Everyone was hot."
Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican and a fiscal conservative, said he was "surprised and disappointed" at Mr. O'Neill's comments on the stimulus package, which the House is expected to approve this week.
"I hope we hear other voices [of support] in the administration," Mr. Toomey said.
Veteran conservative lawmakers such as Rep. Christopher Cox and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, both California Republicans, were said to be furious at Mr. O'Neill's comments.
Others say lawmakers' displeasure with Mr. O'Neill is a symptom of a deep rift with the White House over economic policy. Most recently, President Bush has indicated he wants a stimulus plan of no more than $75 billion and is not in favor of a cut in capital-gains taxes, which the House package includes.
"There's a sense that the White House is providing almost no economic leadership," Mr. Moore said. "It would be nice to get some support from the White House for these supply-side policies."
Even before the House approves its plan, Republicans that the Democrat-led Senate will water down the tax-cut features in the bill in favor of more spending. Mr. Toomey said Republicans have already made concessions to Democrats by limiting the capital gains cut to 2 percent, rather than 5 percent, and by a proposal to send tax-rebate checks to people who do not pay income taxes.
"It's the least we could possibly hope for," Mr. Toomey said of the House bill.
Senate Democratic leaders this weekend are mulling new projections by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, that show the continued economic slump and terrorism-related costs could use up $2 trillion of the Medicare and Social Security surpluses over the next 10 years. Democrats are using the new figures for their argument that a stimulus plan should be limited to one year.
Much of the tax relief in the House bill is permanent, totaling about $160 billion over 10 years.
Senate Democrats are calling for a plan that is more weighted toward spending on highways and other infrastructure than the House bill.
Mr. O'Neill Friday urged Congress to pass Mr. Bush's economic stimulus package within the month, as the administration stepped up efforts to boost consumer confidence rattled by last month's terrorist attacks and an unfolding anthrax scare. Yet the Treasury secretary was optimistic about the future health of the economy.
"We are seeing concrete signs that we are beginning to regain our economic footing. Consumers are returning to the stores, airline usage is increasing and there are buyers again for 'big ticket' goods such as automobiles," Mr. O'Neill said after meeting with business leaders at the White House.
The House is expected to vote this week on an economic stimulus plan that would inject $100 billion into the U.S. economy over the next year with tax breaks for businesses and payroll tax rebates.
While Mr. O'Neill said the legislation contained "all the elements the president has called for," he made clear that the administration would seek to scale it back to $75 billion in the Senate and in final House-Senate negotiations.
Mr. O'Neill's optimistic assessment of the economy differs from other top administration officials.


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