He's Back Former Clinton Treasury Secretary in Whirlwind of Economic Policy

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Out of power, Robert Rubin still wields considerable influence.

Two years after stepping down as President Clinton's treasury secretary, Rubin is at the center of crisis-roiled economic policy: teaming up with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to calm jittery markets, dispensing advice to Republicans and Democrats alike, moving among world leaders at the Asia-Pacific economic conference in China.

Few treasury secretaries won more respect across the political spectrum or the world. Yet he hardly is part of President Bush's economic team.

Today, however, he has emerged as one of the most visible operatives in the effort to protect the U.S. economy from long-term damage from recent terrorism attacks.

Rubin is now chairman of the executive committee of financial giant Citigroup, and his counsel has been welcomed by the business- friendly White House and congressional Republicans.

Privately, however, Bush administration officials are fuming over what they see as Rubin's free-lancing and ties to top Democrats.

That Rubin is playing such an active role reflects his long experience on Wall Street and in the halls of government, and his past successes in dealing with financial crises.

But it also suggests that Bush's economic team has yet to gain its footing.

"There's no one on Bush's economic team who stands out like him," said James Thurber, a government professor at American University.

Bush's foreign policy team B Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice -- have drawn praise even from administration critics for coming together as a cohesive group.

Likewise, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Defense Director Tom Ridge have won broad bipartisan acceptance, becoming familiar figures to many Americans.

But even some top congressional Republicans suggest they are getting mixed signals from Bush's economic team and wonder privately whether Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey are even working from the same script.

As recently as last Monday, the blunt-speaking O'Neill suggested that a Republican-sponsored $100 billion stimulus package before the House was "show business" because it contained more spending than the administration wanted. …