Two of President Bush's top economic advisers stepped down today, in a move that likely reflects the administration's growing concerns about the economy's slow recovery.
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Lawrence Lindsey, who headed the White House National Economic Council, announced Friday that they are leaving their jobs. Both men had come under criticism, O'Neill for his unscripted remarks about the dollar's value and foreign assistance and Lindsey for projecting a $200 billion price tag for a war with Iraq.
The economy has been a problem area for the administration since Bush took office almost two years ago. A $1.35 trillion tax cut passed in 2001 failed to bring the economy out of a recession as Republicans had promised. The Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terrorism have deepened the deficit.
O'Neill, who won attention for traveling with rock star Bono to poor nations, had also failed to make friends on Capitol Hill. He got into a tussle with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) earlier this year about which man grew up in poorer circumstances.
O'Neill said little about his exit, noting, "There are lots of other important things to do in life."
The departure of O'Neill marks the first time a Cabinet official has left the Bush administration. But it will lead to a reshaping of the Bush economic team and demonstrates that Bush sees this area as a weakness as he works toward his reelection campaign in 2004. The Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate reached its highest level in nine years last month, at 6 percent. Consumer spending this holiday season is expected to reflect the slow economy. And just weeks ago, Harvey Pitt resigned as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission after making a controversial nomination to the agency's oversight board.
The White House indicated it will move quickly to nominate O'Neill's successor, who should have an easy time winning confirmation by the Senate since the chamber will be in GOP hands starting next month. But Democrats said that the administration will need more than new advisers to jumpstart the stalled economy.
"Changing the faces of his economic advisers can't change the underlying failure of President Bush's economic policy to get our economy growing again, create new jobs and opportunities, and expand America's middle class," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) in a statement. "We need a real growth strategy, based on proven principles and new ideas for realizing them, not knee-jerk ideologies that lead to unfair and unaffordable tax plans."
Mary Lynn F. Jones is a senior editor at the Prospect.