President Carter: I don't think there's is any way I could find anyone to replace Bert Lance that would be in my judgment as competent, as strong, as decent and as close to me as a friend and adviser as he has been. And, obviously, the government will continue, and I hope to do a good job as president, and I am sure a successor will be adequate.
President Carter did not have to look far to find Bert Lance's successor as director of the Office of Management and Budget. For James T. McIntyre, the 36-year-old Georgian whom Carter nominated to the post last month, was Bert Lance's deputy.
Although Carter probably is right that McIntyre never will have the influence with the President that Lance was presumed to have observers in the administration and on Capitol Hill - where doing a thorough, competent job in negotiating the 1979 budget that the administration will propose to Congress later this month.
McIntyre, who was budget director when Carter was governor of Georgia, has more clout with Carter, and therefore, with Cabinet officers and legislators, than most thought he would when the President named him acting director and put him in charge of developing the 1979 budget (a task that primarily had fallen to him and Bowman Cutter, the associate director for budget review, anyway).
His power comes not from his persuasiveness or his ability to change Carter's mind - he actually appears shy in interviews although those who know him well say that shyness is as much Southern "politeness" as deference. Nor does it derive from his ability to assimilate a mass of detailed material quickly, a facility Lance possess to a greater degree than McIntyre, although the former Georgia banker seldom likes to mess with details.
McIntyre does not socialize much with the President, play much tennis with him, nor does he advise the President on Washington politics.
No, James Talmadge McIntyre's power derives from one basic source. He thinks exactly like President Carter, at least on spending and taxing matters.
Cabinet officials and, to a lesser extent, congressional officials, have learned that, when McIntyre takes a position, it is one that is likely to be shared by the President.
During the internal debate on the tax package that the President has promised to send to Congress soon, most of Carter's top advisers opted for a tax cut in the range of $30 billion McIntyre said he thought the reduction should be closer to $25 billion.
"I agree with you," said the Chief Executive.
Similarly, on the budget numbers, Carter found himself more often in agreement with his acting budget director than with anyone else in his cabinet.
When McIntyre took over last September. OMB staffers - who resented the fact that Lance ignored running the agency but liked his proximity to Carter - worried that the agency's power would wane and the inexperienced acting director would lose too many important budget battles to more seasoned cabinet officials such as Health, Education and Welfare chief Joseph T. Califano and Defense Secretary Harold Brown.
"But he stood up well," said one top OMB official who professed some surprise. "Jim McIntyre was clearly deeply involved in the budget writing process and had the support of the President all the way."
"There are a number of things he can't do that Bert (Lance) would do with his style, known conservative views and identification with the business community." said one official in the Ford OMB."But McIntyre is running OMB, something he did anyway without the title when Lance was there."
"People didn't think of Jim McIntyre as a budget director until he started doing business," said Robert S. Strauss. Carter's special trade representative, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and probably the President's closest confidant in the administration.
"Four months ago, three months ago, had you asked the impression department heads had of McIntyre. You'd have gotten a mixed bag of answers Today they'd all answer 'yes'."
But observers still have their reservations, worrying that McIntyre might be in a false nirvana, being overly protected by a President who threw him into a tough job with little preparation. "Sure the President would have to support him, especially in an acting status," argued one Hill budget official who remains less of an admirer of McIntyre's abilities than others. "If those cabinet members thought they get around OMB through the President, the whole budget-setting process would be shot."
Furthersome, some see McIntyre the victim of the same lack of Washington officials, including the President. But they admit McIntyre has gone out of his way to repair relationships with Capitol Hill that had been damaged, from OMB's perspective, by Lance's lack of preparation in congressional testimony.
Rep. Robert N Giaimo (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, often felt he was sold out by the administration when officials changed position first on the $50 rebate and then on a presidential veto of high farm-price supports. He had warm words of praise for McIntyre.
McIntyre himself claimed neither to particularly want the job nor to compaign for it. In a mid-November interview, a month and a half after he became acting director on Sept. 22. McIntyre said merely that he was working harder and paying a lot more attention to congressional leaders, cabinet officers and the Economic Policy Group, a top-level administration panel that thrashes out the implications of economic polices.
When things settle down, the 1979 budget is before Congress (which makes the actual taxing and spending decisions anyway) and the new kid in town has lost his veneer, the infighting could get tougher, officials concede.
For despite the warm praise from congressional and administration officials, McIntyre lacks either the budget-making savvy that is possessed by Charles L. Schultze, the chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers who headed President Johnson's budget bureau, or the personal pull of a Strauss.
Furthermore, the agency lacks a top economic official to ride herd over the economic estimates produced by the CEA and other agencies that are so crucial to the budget-making process. Ford's budget director, James T. Lynn, had a top flight macroeconomic forecaster, Rudloph G. Penner, who is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprises Institute.
"You can win a tough fight and scale $100 million off a budget request, then see that $100 million and more vanish if Charlie (Schultze's CEA forecast) is off a smidgeon" as tax receipts fall or expenditures (such as unemployment benefits) are triggered.
But mcIntyre cautioned, long before the President nominated him to the post, that he is hardly an unknown quantity to the President, even if he's not a social friend. "I was his budget director in Georgia," he said, supply the emphasis himself.