Senator rips Bush budget's accusations of micromanagement

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Thursday pointedly dressed down Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill during a Budget Committee hearing over a cartoon contained in President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget and comments that O'Neill recently made disparaging congressional rules.

Holding up Bush's budget, Byrd expressed disgust with an old editorial cartoon depicting Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians in a section titled "Freedom to Manage," and the accompanying text stating that federal mangers "lack much of the discretion given their private sector counterparts to get the job done."

In the face of a lecture from the Congress' leading historian and foremost guardian of the legislative branch's power of the purse, a clearly angered O'Neill struggled to maintain his composure and refused to "cede the high moral ground" to Byrd.

O'Neill stood by his comments to the National Association of Business Economists when he complained: "The rules that have been created by just ordinary people are in some ways more and more like the Lilliputians tying us to the ground ... I don't know why we have to live by these rules. After all, they were only made by other people. And so far as I can tell, God didn't send them."

O'Neill told Byrd he was referring in general to "rules that limit the realization of human potential," which he likened to segregation in the Jim Crow South, which O'Neill said once permitted rules such as "colored don't enter here."

But Byrd, who has tangled with equal ferocity with other members of this and previous administrations, charged that O'Neill was referring to the so-called Byrd rule on budget reconciliation, which--as applied last year--required the $1.35 trillion tax cut to be sunset after 10 years.

Byrd lectured O'Neill about the history and authority behind congressional rules, and scolded, "Mr. Secretary, you probably should have had a good study course in American history before you came up here."