All The O'Neill Hubbub Could Have Been Avoided

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has been in the news a lot lately, badmouthing President Bush. Why? Two reasons: First, he’s helping to hype a new book about him, The Price of Loyalty. Second, he’s bitter about being fired from the Bush White House and sees a great chance to get even.

Of course the Left is having a field day with O’Neill’s statements about Bush’s unwillingness to listen to advisors and determination to go after Saddam even before 9/11. But this whole situation could have easily been avoided: Bush should never have tapped O’Neill for the cabinet post in the first place.

The Bush Administration was warned that O’Neill was not the best pick for Treasury by this very publication. Even before his confirmation, Human Events published the following:

“‘America’ Was Wrong Word for O’Neill”December 29, 2000

    Will a man who paid Mexican factory workers $25 per week, then stripped the name of “America” from the company he ran, become the next secretary of the U.S. Treasury?

    The answer is yes, if former Alcoa Chairman Paul O’Neill is confirmed. [. . .]

    [T]wo years ago, Alcoa divorced America. As corporate chairman and CEO, Paul O’Neill delivered the official papers.

    The company, he said, was stripping its legal name down to just its acronym-Alcoa. The word “America” was dropped from the corporate title.

    “The new identity reflects the global scope of Alcoa,” said O’Neill. “We operate at 250 locations in 30 countries around the world and more than half of our employees are based outside the U.S.”

    But before the Senate confirms O’Neill, it ought to examine how the company he led represented America around the world when it still called itself an American company. [. . .]

    Perhaps Paul O’Neill was on to something when he removed “America” from the name of his new global company. More and more, its employees are not Americans, they are not paid American wages, and they do not live by any standard of life recognizably American.

    But O’Neill himself made out all right at Alcoa. The same year he was paying Mexicans $25 per week in factories just across the Rio Grande from George W.’s Texas, he was raking in $10.8 million to labor at the corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh.

    Now apparently he’s saved up enough to retire and serve-with compassionate conservatism, no doubt-as secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

    Let’s hope he doesn’t drop the U.S. from that title, too.

“O’Neill Favored Energy Taxes: Treasury Nominee Helped Create LSC”December 29, 2000

    Paul O’Neill, President-elect Bush’s controversial nominee to serve as Treasury secretary, advised President-elect Bill Clinton in 1992 to study the enactment of new gas and carbon taxes, and in the 1970s worked in the Nixon and Ford Administrations to thwart conservative efforts to roll back big government programs.

    At an economic summit called by then President-elect Clinton in 1992, O’Neill said, “It certainly has been clear to me, and has been for a long time, that we need a gasoline tax. We should also look very hard at a carbon tax.” [. . .]

    Serving as associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Nixon, O’Neill prevented efforts led by Nixon-appointee Howard Phillips (now chairman of the Conservative Caucus) to shutdown the Office of Economic Opportunity, which Phillips directed.

    In 1974, over the objections of such stalwart conservatives as Rep. John Ashbrook (R.-Ohio), O’Neill also helped engineer the creation of the Legal Service Corp., which, to this day, uses tax dollars to fund left-wing lawsuits by liberal lawyers.

“Grading Bush’s Cabinet-From A to D”January 19, 2001

    Paul O’Neill, Treasury Secretary: . . . His political record is uninspiring to say the least. He questioned the Laffer Curve assumptions of the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s. He supported the 1990 tax increase with so much enthusiasm that he actually had Alcoa resign from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when the Chamber opposed it. Then in 1992 he went to Bill Clinton’s economic summit and announced his support for a gas tax hike. The folks at the Capital Research Center, a public policy group that monitors corporate giving, tell me that under O’Neill, Alcoa had one of the most left-leaning philanthropy departments. He’s untrustworthy. Once a tax hiker, always a tax hiker. GRADE: D

During his tenure as Treasury Secretary, we also addressed O’Neill’s policies and actions. Again, no one can say they weren’t informed about the man now seemingly determined to undermine the administration of his former boss.

“O’Neill Wants Bush to Focus on ‘Global Warming’: Treasury Secretary May Be Barrier to Sound Energy Policy”March 26, 2001

    The internal Bush Administration conflict over global warming policy was settled last week when President Bush decided carbon dioxide would not be regulated as a pollutant. But a revealing memo penned by Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill suggests the controversy is far from over.

    On February 27, two weeks before the CO2 story broke, O’Neill outlined for Bush a comprehensive strategy to address global warming. Among other things, O’Neill urged Bush to “develop a process for achieving a consensus on the targeted limit of greenhouse gas concentrations.” That would provide the basis, he said, for a “set of world interventions and actions that make economic and environmental sense.” [. . .]

    O’Neill’s alarmism on the subject is not new. In 1998, as chairman of aluminum giant Alcoa, O’Neill gave a speech in which he compared global warming to a “nuclear holocaust.” Despite the lack of scientific consensus on whether global warming is actually occurring or what its impact on climate and weather might be, O’Neill said that “global climate change may be a substantial issue that we need to deal with, and we should do it now.”

    In that same speech, O’Neill suggested establishing a “Manhattan Project” level of “intensive investment and massing of resources in order to reduce the uncertainties about the connection between concentrations of atmospheric gases and the dangers of global warming.”

    In a section titled “How to Get Started,” O’Neill’s February 27th memo mentioned several people who could advise Bush on the complexities of global warming science and economics. One of those “advisors” O’Neill suggested was Michael Oppenheimer, an environmental scientist with the ultra-liberal Environmental Defense Fund. [. . .]

    O’Neill also recommended William Merrell, president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. The Heinz Center is a liberal foundation whose members support the Kyoto Protocol and expanding federal environmental regulations. O’Neill served on the Heinz Centerboard before he became treasury secretary.

“The Right Ear: The Tax Police”April 30, 2001

    Demonstrating further that he is President Bush’s least prudent choice in a generally solid Cabinet, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill refuses to commit to abandoning the Clinton policy of promoting high global taxation. The European-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) wants to end “tax competition” among nations by, in effect, requiring universally high taxation. Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R.-Okla.) wrote a letter to O’Neill requesting the abrogation of the Clinton policy. Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Weinberger wrote back March 26, reported Bob Novak in his April 19 column, saying that “countries generally should not engage in practices that make it easier for other countries’ laws to be broken or frustrated. . . . [T]hose practices might include bank secrecy rules or an unwillingness to exchange tax information with us that would permit taxpayers more readily to evade our laws.” Novak commented, “That sounded like a tentative endorsement of what House Majority Leader Dick Armey has labeled a ‘global network of tax police.'” The OECD is threatening sanctions against small countries considered tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands. Next could be the United States, for having lower taxes and more financial privacy laws than Europe.

“Fire Paul O’Neill”October 29, 2001

    The big story emerging here is that President Bush’s top economic adviser, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, seems to agree with Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D.-Mo.) that, when it comes to tax cuts, small is beautiful. O’Neill criticized the modest tax cuts in the House bill as “show business,” which has infuriated conservatives such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R.-Tex.) and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.), who believe that O’Neill was undercutting their ability to negotiate a strong growth package with the Democrats and the Senate. [. . .]

    Bush should start to redesign his economic game plan by firing Paul O’Neill and replacing him with either Steve Forbes or the retiring Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Either of these candidates would be a hawk on economic growth. This bold move would send resounding signals to the financial markets that Bush is fully committed to sound economic growth policies. O’Neill does not accomplish this for Bush.

“Wall Street Wants to Know: Where’s Paul O’Neill?: Economy Screaming for Cap-Gains Cut, While Treasury Secretary AWOL”November 12, 2001

    The U.S. economy is grimacing as unemployment rises and corporate earnings fall faster than stock prices. So where is Paul O’Neill?

    So far, the treasury secretary is trying to go along with a $100-billion congressional economic stimulus package, but on Wall Street not everyone is impressed. Momentum is growing for more serious measures, such as a capital gains tax cut that would raise returns on investment.

    For many, it’s the only solution that will work. But getting that passed in Congress will take guts from Bush’s lieutenants such as O’Neill and Economic Adviser Larry Lindsey, who would have to take on class-warfare artists in the Democratic Party. So far, Wall Street isn’t seeing those guts, and the market is restless. [. . .]

    So what is the problem? [Brian Wesbury, chief economist at Griffin, Kubik, Stephens and Thompson, Inc., in Chicago] says the Bush Administration and its economic team have not acted with conviction about the need to get the economy moving through investment. “With this congressional stimulus package, we have ended up in a Keynesian quagmire,” he says. “I think the two key leaders on the economic policy are Paul O’Neill and Larry Lindsey. I would say both dropped the ball by not coming out forcefully enough on the economic equation. They should have pressured the President to get the administration back on the economic front two months ago. The President was brilliantly advised on the military side, but not brilliantly on the economic side, and the whole process was caught in a political battle,” Wesbury said.

“Bono and O’Neill: Boneheads on Tour”June 3, 2002

    Lately, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has been traveling throughout Africa with rock singer Bono, an outspoken advocate of debt relief and increased foreign aid for Africa. Why O’Neill agreed to this silly tour is a mystery, since it was a virtual certainty that it would only result in increased pressure on the United States-meaning U.S. taxpayers-to increase foreign aid.

“Bailing Out Brazil — Or Robert Rubin?” August 19, 2002

    What has happened to Paul O’Neill? Our tough-love treasury secretary seems to have undergone a road-to-Damascus conversion to the Clintonite policy of bailing out bankrupt Third World regimes. [. . .]

    Yet, some of us saw O’Neill’s pirouette coming. Two months ago, I wrote, “A prediction: President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill will emulate Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin and get into the bailout business, big-time as Dick Cheney would say, because no wants to be the one left standing there when the music stops.”

    Why the abandonment of principle by the president and O’Neill? Because neither wants to be in the wheelhouse when the ship hits the reef.

    With Brazil’s external debt at $264 billion, this $37 billion only kicks the can up the road. Brazil is bust, and putting bankrupts deeper in debt only pushes off the day of reckoning and write-offs. O’Neill is throwing tens of billions of good U.S. tax dollars down a rathole to chase the lost loans of Citigroup and J. P. Morgan.

Hate to say “We told you so,” but, hey. . .