Reagan ‘Doesn’t Give Damn on Any Issue,’ O’Neill Says

Associated Press

House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. said today that President Reagan “doesn’t give a damn” about trade problems costing the nation thousands of jobs or “any issue that’s out there.”

As the House returned from a one-month recess, a week ahead of the Senate, O’Neill said the federal deficit and the trade gap overshadow Reagan’s tax plan among most Americans. He said that there is little sentiment for a tax overhaul and that the President will have to push hard to get it through Congress.

The Massachusetts Democrat told a news conference that businesses are “actually frightened” over the nation’s widening trade gap because “they are losing 3,500 jobs a day.”

“They’re upset because the President doesn’t give a damn,” O’Neill said. “He doesn’t care if we’re losing 3,500.”

“He doesn’t give a damn about any issue that’s out there,” he said.


O’Neill also accused Reagan of being inflexible in his policies. “When the American people say he’s spending too much on his defense buildup, he doesn’t give a damn.”

The Speaker conceded that Reagan remains popular in public opinion polls “for his leadership abilities.” But he said an “anti-Reagan policy sentiment is developing across America” among those who like the President but not his specific goals.

O’Neill said that in a fall session that will last “until Thanksgiving anyway” Congress will come up with “some kind of trade bill.” He said, however, that it is unclear when such a measure will reach the House floor.

Numerous industries, hard hit by competition from imports, are clamoring for protectionist measures. Wide layoffs and a projected $150-billion deficit in imports over exports this year have added urgency to the issue.

The leading trade bill, according to most lawmakers, would force the government to impose tariffs or quotas on textile products from abroad.

While Reagan was vacationing at his California ranch last month, he announced that he would not impose either quotas or higher tariffs to grant relief to the troubled shoe industry. That seemed sure to incite more support in Congress for tariffs or quotas on imported shoes.

2 Retaliatory Bills

In addition, Congress is weighing two major, broad-based bills designed to retaliate against Japan and three other large exporting nations for alleged unfair barriers against American products.

O’Neill said, however, that chances are not as bright for the tax overhaul plan that Reagan has made the centerpiece of his legislative program. The Speaker said he will “do everything humanly possible” to get such a measure through the House but added that Reagan will have to push hard and round up Republican votes.

“I found very little sentiment for the reform tax bill” among business executives over the August recess, O’Neill said, “very little sentiment. The people on the street--they never even mention it.”

“I’m saying there will be great difficulty with it,” O’Neill said.