Miller's nomination to OMB reflects desire for a low-key budget chief. White House trying to exert tighter control over the Cabinet-level post
Washington — The way James C. Miller III was named as President Reagan's choice for budget director illustrates the low-profile role the White House wants him to play. Unlike many other high-level appointments, neither the President nor the White House chief of staff personally announced Mr. Miller's selection to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
In another departure from common practice, Miller, who currently serves as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, did not appear before reporters and TV cameras when the announcement was made.
Instead his selection for the Cabinet-level job was included at the end of a list of other nominations, including new amabassadors to Chad and Niger, read by presidential spokesman Larry Speakes at Friday's daily press briefing.
Mr. Speakes denied Miller's nomination was being handled in ``a ho-hum fashion.''
He noted that a statement from the President, who approved the nomination from his hospital suite, called Mr. Miller ``an outstanding individual with considerable experience and background that will be a tremendous asset to the administration.''
But key White House officials have made it clear they want the new OMB director to be less visible and exercise less independent power than outgoing OMB Director David A. Stockman. Mr. Stockman leaves Aug. 1 to take a high-paying job on Wall Street.
If confirmed by the Senate, Miller would become the administration's point man on budget matters at a crucial time.
The congressional budget process is teetering on the verge of collapse. Senate Republicans this week are expected to make a counteroffer to a House proposal the Senators rejected last Wednesday after charging it did not contain enough domestic spending cuts and still trimmed defense spending too much.
Appearing Sunday on NBC-TV's ``Meet the Press'' Senate majority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas said it is ``a likelihood'' that the House and Senate would not agree on a budget resolution. Chances of agreement are ``less than 50-50,'' he said.
In addition to disliking his high public profile, some Reagan officials charge that Stockman ignored the ``M'' in OMB.
``Dave did a great job on the budget. Dave did very little on management,'' says one high official.
Officials also make it clear Miller will have less sweeping freedom to negotiate with Congress on the details of budget matters than did Stockman. But he will still play a major role in the budget process. ``It is not that [Chief of staff Donald T.] Regan is looking for a toady,'' a senior official said. The plan is to ``revert to what was the traditional'' OMB arrangement, where more detailed marching orders came from the White House.
In a prepared statement, Miller said, ``I have worked with David Stockman in the past and have great respect for him. He is a difficult act to follow but I will do my darndest.''
Miller expressed some views on the budget deficit in an April speech to the Association of Private Enterprise Education. While noting the deficit has some ``real costs,'' including larger government interest payments, Miller argued against tax increases to narrow the deficit. A growing economy will produce growing revenue for the government, he said, ``while tax increases that hinder growth may ultimately prove counterproductive for the Treasury as well as disastrous for the public in general.''
``Jim is a pretty reserved person. He is not a headline grabber, not an attention seeker,'' says John M. Albertine, president of the American Business Conference and a friend of Miller's since graduate school.
Rather than providing political muscle on Capitol Hill, Miller is likely to serve as a ``a very, very gifted technician who is going to come up with the potential option pass'' play for deficit reduction, Mr. Albertine says. Miller will ``be a bulldog'' in implementing policy set at the White House, Albertine said.
Critics charge that in pursuing his free-market philosophy at the FTC, Miller did not adequately protect consumers' interests. Former FTC Commissioner Michael Pertschuk has charged that Miller was determined to undo ``the very foundation of antitrust and consumer protection law laid down by Congress.''
Before moving to the FTC in late 1981, Miller served in the Reagan administration as administrator of the OMB's Regulatory Affairs Office. He also was executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief. From 1977 until 1981 Miller, who holds a Phd. in economics from the University of Virginia, was a resident scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.