- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

President Bush's economic team has been under fire for months from conservative critics and Wall Street analysts who think the administration needs a more credible spokesman to reframe its message and calm jittery markets.

But several events have subdued much of that criticism and may have given Mr. Bush's top economic advisers a longer lease on their jobs. Stock markets have staged a comeback in the past month, the economy appears to be stabilizing and the White House has just won control of Congress.

The Washington rumor mills are still producing stories that Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill may be one of the casualties in a midterm administration shake-up, along with White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey. Yet both men continue to have Mr. Bush's support, and administration insiders say they do not expect any changes at present, though critics are still calling for a new face with a stronger message.

"I'd bring in someone new to be the president's adviser. Bush needs a strong supply-side voice that can have a calming influence on the financial markets," said Stephen Moore, president of the tax-cutting advocacy group, Club for Growth.

"This is not a criticism of O'Neill or Lindsey. They've been fine, but the White House has a deficiency in its economic message," Mr. Moore said.

News stories appear with increasing frequency about Mr. O'Neill's blunt and erratic style. In the past, he has angered Republicans with criticism about tax legislation and has revealed policy disagreements within the administration.

His critics want to replace him with someone who has more influence in the financial markets and can boost investor confidence. One name that repeatedly crops up is New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard A. Grasso, who instituted reforms that helped stabilize markets in the wake of corporate accounting scandals.

Nevertheless, administration officials say Mr. O'Neill retains Mr. Bush's full loyalty and confidence.

"The president believes that his economic team is a strong team and that the advice they have given him has been very effective," said Mr. Bush's economic spokeswoman, Claire Buchan. But when asked whether the two men would remain in their posts, she replied: "We never speculate about individual personnel matters."

Mr. O'Neill has been working on an economic stimulus package that the administration intends to propose in January. He is also putting the finishing touches on a tax-simplification overhaul that the White House hopes to propose early next year.

With so much on his plate, administration officials say he is secure in his job for now. "He has been exceptionally strong on tax reform," Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Lindsey, chief architect of Mr. Bush's 2001 tax-cut plan, has also come under criticism in newspapers and elsewhere for not calming the markets during a volatile year on Wall Street. Mr. Lindsey, former Federal Reserve Board governor, had long believed the market was overvalued and in need of a correction.

He also has critics within the administration. R. Glenn Hubbard, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has been privately critical of Mr. Lindsey's performance, administration officials say. Mr. Hubbard has denied the charge.

Mr. Lindsey is said to have no plans to leave his post, but associates say he may eventually wish to return to the world of private economic consulting, where he was paid in the seven figures before joining the administration.


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