Will Gene Sperling replace Larry Summers?
Alongside -- and perhaps in front of -- Roger Altman, Gene Sperling is rumored to be the leading contender to succeed Larry Summers as director of the National Economics Council. At the moment, Sperling serves as an adviser (or, in the lingo of the Treasury, "counselor") to Timothy Geithner. For Sperling, the odd reality is that this means he's vying for a job he's already had once: He led the NEC from 1995-2000, and given both the economy's performance over that period and the perception that the Clinton White House ran fairly smoothly in its later years, you'd think he'd be a shoo-in.
But politically, Sperling has two problems. The first is that he took a lot of money from -- a term that should be distinguished from "went to work for" -- Goldman Sachs and two hedge funds. In 2008 and 2009, Sperling served as an adviser to the financial titan, making more than $800,000 for consulting. His duties at Goldman Sachs were primarily on a $100 million charitable project to help raise the skill levels of poorer women in developing nations, but in some ways, that makes the transaction more peculiar: You tend not to get paid that much for offering guidance to charitable endeavors. It is very hard to believe that Goldman Sachs wasn't attempting to buy influence with a politically savvy economist who had good relations -- and would later go to work for -- the incoming Democratic administration.
As Noam Scheiber reports, there's little evidence that Sperling has been particularly sympathetic to his former benefactors. He was the principal force behind the tax the administration levied on firms to pay back TARP. Sperling is also pretty far-flung from Wall Street itself. He's worked in politics pretty much his entire professional life, developing a reputation for insane hours and comical unkemptness in the Clinton administration, attaching himself to think tanks and writing a policy book ("The Pro-Growth Progressive") during the Bush years, and then joining the Obama White House in a position that was far beneath the role he'd served for Bill Clinton. If Sperling is intellectually and emotionally captured by anything, it's Washington, not Wall Street.
Nevertheless, perceptions matter in politics, and the Wall Street payout is the sort of arrangement that people loathe: Whatever it really was, and whatever Sperling saw it as, it sure looks like Goldman Sachs was buying itself some political insurance.
The second issue for Sterling could be seen as either a positive or a negative: He's already in the administration. So far, every major vacancy in the White House has been filled by someone else from the White House. Rahm Emanuel was replaced by Pete Rouse, Peter Orszag was replaced by Jack Lew. Christina Romer was replaced by Austen Goolsbee. The implication here is that President Obama believes his team is doing a good job, and that it doesn't need new members. But there are certainly people inside the White House making the case that for both political and policy reasons, some new blood would be a good thing.
What'll help Sperling there is that the administration never found a real outsider it liked -- and it may have concluded that an outsider isn't the right fit for an internal process job. The early interest in a CEO appears to have fizzled. The other leading candidate for the job is Roger Altman, a banker and former Clinton-administration official. That is to say, he shares most of Sperling's drawbacks, but doesn't have Sperling's advantages: experience running the NEC, experience with the personalities in this White House, and extended experience in politics, including during a previous period when a Democratic president had to negotiate with a Republican Congress. All of those qualities would be rather helpful in directing the activities of the administration's economic team going forward.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh.
| December 30, 2010; 8:41 AM ET
Categories: Obama administration
Save & Share: Previous: Wonkbook: Elizabeth Warren looking for CFPB chief; Banks increasing lending; revolving door spinning faster; Republicans attack EPA regs as 'gas tax'
Next: Dr. Dionne's couch
Posted by: GDGriffin | December 30, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: GDGriffin | December 30, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: DavidCEisen | December 30, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: justin84 | December 30, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jhough1 | December 30, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: spekny | December 30, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: phvr38 | December 30, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: myoung22 | December 30, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: myoung22 | December 30, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Hazmat77 | December 30, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: windshouter | December 30, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: vagueofgodalming | December 30, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Hazmat77 | December 30, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: KBrustmeyer2003 | December 31, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: morphy | January 1, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: carolerae48 | January 1, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse