Obama Nominates Krueger As Top Economic Adviser

Just days before he announces new economic proposals, President Obama has nominated a new member to his economic team. If confirmed by the Senate, Alan Krueger will become chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. David Wessel, of The Wall Street Journal, talks to Steve Inskeep about the kind of influence Krueger could have on the president.

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Just days before he makes new economic proposals to create jobs, President Obama has nominated a new member of his economic team. If confirmed by the Senate, Alan Krueger becomes chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. In the end, the president makes the decisions, but Krueger could be in a position of influence.

David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal is following this story, actually leading this story, broke it yesterday.

David, good morning.

Mr. DAVID WESSEL (The Wall Street Journal}: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So who is Krueger and what does he stand for?

Mr. WESSEL: Well, Krueger spent the first two years of the Obama administration in the Obama administration as the top economist at the Treasury. He left about a year ago to return to his teaching job at Princeton. He's written about a huge variety of things, from what makes a terrorist to rising costs of concert tickets to the benefits of going to an elite college on your wages later in life. But what he really is is a specialist in labor economics, in understanding the job market, the impact of the minimum wage, and most importantly on the dynamics of unemployment, which seems pretty relevant right now with 9.1 percent unemployment.

INSKEEP: So does his appointment imply some particular policy move?

Mr. WESSEL: Well, I think we know the White House is going to be focused on jobs and jobs and jobs for the next year no matter who sits on the Council of Economic Advisors. The president must be aware that the Gallup Poll shows that only 26 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy. That's lower than at any time during his presidency. But I think that what the White House was looking for was an economist with a high class academic pedigree who can talk about the economy smartly on TV, who has a shot at being confirmed by the Senate, and was willing to come to Washington during an election year when a lot of the academics want to be nowhere near Washington. So Krueger has a PhD from Harvard. He's been through the Senate mill before, and he's worked with Treasury Secretary Geithner, so I think that's why they chose him.

INSKEEP: You said shot of being confirmed by the Senate. Any early indications about whether Republicans would block this appointment?

Mr. WESSEL: Well, he got the endorsement of a number of former Council of Economic Advisors members who are Republicans. But the Republican National Committee took a shot at him and said it's just another example of President Obama's unwillingness to change his direction. We haven't heard anything from the key senators yet.

INSKEEP: Now, let's get into the substance here, having moved past this personality who may be joining the president's economic team. We are some days away from President Obama promising a jobs initiative, even as at least one of his Republican opponents, or would-be Republican opponents will put out a jobs initiative. What does the White House want to do, as best you know?

Mr. WESSEL: Well, I think that the White House knows that it has a weak economy and that it has to appear to be doing something to address that problem, both for the good of the country and the good of the president's reelection campaign.

The president's already called for renewing the payroll tax break that's supposed to expire at the end of the year. Republicans expressed skepticism but the White House figures they'll fall in line, lest they be accused of raising taxes by not extending it. The White House says the president is going to go beyond what he - his recent calls to enact patent reform and pass free trade agreements. What exactly they aren't saying, but it's pretty clear that the possibilities include more tax breaks to get employers to hire workers, special tax breaks aimed at getting them to hire; some programs targeted at dealing with the problem of long-term unemployment, which is an area where Alan Krueger has spent a lot of time and research on; more emphasis on infrastructure, which would put construction workers back to work.

INSKEEP: When you look at that list, are those things that could get enough bipartisan support to plausibly pass Congress?

Mr. WESSEL: Well, I think that the reason the president talks so much about tax cuts is he thinks those things have a better shot at getting through Congress, particularly the Republicans. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor yesterday circulated a memo to Republicans in which he basically says the secret here is for the government to get out of the way. He wants less regulations, he wants to repeal some regulations, and he's resisting anything that looks like the stimulus that President Obama pushed earlier.

INSKEEP: Okay. David, thanks very much.

Mr. WESSEL: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal.

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