Obama considers Levin, others for economic adviser

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 | Finance News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House has cast a wide net in its search for a replacement for outgoing economic adviser Larry Summers with a list that includes Yale University President Richard Levin.

President Barack Obama's decision over who will lead the National Economic Council after Summers leaves is one of his most important moves in the coming weeks.

Ahead of his 2012 re-election campaign, fixing the economy and bringing down nearly-double-digit unemployment are the president's top priorities.

A senior U.S. official said on Tuesday that Obama had met with Levin to discuss a job in the administration. A spokesman for Yale University declined to comment.

Along with Levin, investment banker Roger Altman and U.S. Treasury official Gene Sperling are also being looked at as potential successors, but no decision has been made.

Altman also has met with the president.

Sperling, a former Clinton administration official, has helped spearhead Obama's push for a legislative package to extend tax cuts enacted under Republican former President George W. Bush and unemployment benefits.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday it might not be possible to name a replacement for Summers by the end of the year because of a busy legislative calendar. Summers, who is stepping down this month as director of the NEC, is returning to Harvard University.

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The decision over his successor is being watched carefully by businesses and Wall Street for signals on how Obama's economic policies may shift in the second two years of his administration.

The NEC director's job is to coordinate the economic advice the president receives throughout the administration.

Naming Altman could reinforce criticism from liberal Democrats that the administration's economic team is too close to Wall Street. While financial regulation reform counts as one of Obama's top legislative accomplishments, past and present advisers' ties to Wall Street have raised eyebrows.

On the other hand, business groups have criticized the administration for having too many academics in its top ranks -- a potential argument against Levin -- and not enough people with business experience.

According to his Yale biography, Levin was recently appointed to serve on the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology and is also a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations.

The appointment of Sperling, an administration insider, would have the limitation that it would not convey change just as the administration fights to show it is doing all it can to improve the economy after Republicans made big victories over Democrats in the November 2 congressional elections.

Sperling is popular within the administration. His efforts on Capitol Hill to help sell the tax-cut deal and his work to pass a bill to help small businesses earlier this fall have won him plaudits.

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