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Eye Opener: Tension for Obama's Economic Team

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Monday! It seems Larry Summers has shepherded in an era of awkward feelings among the president's economic advisers. The best turf war stories always begin with an anecdote, don't they? Today's example comes courtesy of Jackie Calmes at the New York Times:

"President Obama was getting his daily economic briefing one recent morning when a fly distracted him. The president swatted and missed, just as the pest buzzed near the shoes of Lawrence H. Summers, the chief White House economic adviser. 'Couldn’t you aim a little higher?' deadpanned Christina D. Romer, the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

"Mrs. Romer was joking, she said in an interview, adding, 'There are only a few times that I felt like smacking Larry.' Yet few laughed in the president’s presence.

"If the Oval Office incident was meant as a lighthearted moment, it also exposed the underlying tensions that have gripped Mr. Obama’s economic advisers as they have struggled with the gravest financial crisis since the Depression, according to several dozen interviews with administration officials and others familiar with the internal debates."

More: "Along the way, Mr. Summers has forcefully debated the Treasury secretary, his onetime protégé Timothy F. Geithner, over what to do with troubled banks. He has clashed with Peter R. Orszag, the budget director, over fiscal and health policy issues. He has collided with Austan Goolsbee, an economist on the Council of Economic Advisers, over whether to rescue Chrysler. And he and Mrs. Romer have squabbled over how best to make the economic case for overhauling health care.

"The disagreements are only natural, White House officials say. The issues are big, and so are the personalities, as Mr. Obama intended. He has said he wanted advisers who would be teammates as well as rivals, long on experience and brainpower and able to air all sides of an issue to help him decide."

Indeed, what's a little disagreement among colleagues when you're tasked with saving the world? Only natural, right?

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments section below.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | June 8, 2009; 6:05 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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