Larry Summers Is Administration's Economic Voice

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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been the administration's point man on the economy. Some feel that he has not been an effective messenger. When Geithner first presented a bank bailout plan, the stock market took a dive. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who is the White House economic advisor, appears to be taking on a larger role, and may eclipse anything that Geithner says in the coming weeks.


Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been the Obama administration's point man on the economy. It's a role that's brought him some grief — the stock market took a dive after he first presented a bailout plan for banks last month. So, prepare to meet the president's top economic advisor, Larry Summers. The former Treasury secretary has a major speech on the economy later today. I asked NPR News analyst Juan Williams what we can expect to hear from Summers.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, most of what we hear from the administration, Linda, comes from Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, and it has not instilled confidence in the people who've been hearing the message. President Obama has, you know, tried to cede this playing field Tim Geithner, but Geithner's performance has been halting at best.

And what we're seeing now, this week, on the whole, if you look back, is the administration putting all its players on the field. And now it's all built up to have Larry Summers deliver sort of the coupe de grace today, this morning, in advance of the G20 summit that's going to be in London in April.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Summers, of course, is the former president of Harvard, former Treasury secretary, president's economic advisor. What is his relationship with Geithner?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, he was Geithner's mentor at Harvard and he remains a man who is very aggressive in terms of setting out his turf. And his turf, because he's at the White House and he's the one who's briefing President Obama everyday on the economy, is really across the board.

He's the one who is dealing with everything from health care, to education, to energy - all of those elements. He's the one who's advising Geithner in terms of how to handle the financial rescue, the bank rescue. He's involved with the housing rescue deal.

So across the board that's him. And he is also the one who's most effective when it comes to going up to the Hill and dealing with the Congress, especially with Republicans, who seem to have higher regard for him.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that Geithner and Summers are on the same page on this, or is the - are they trotting out Summers, in part, because he and Geithner don't agree?

WILLIAMS: It's not that they don't agree. It's just that Geithner has not proved an effective messenger. And so it now becomes the province of Larry Summers - as the former president of Harvard, as you said Linda, a man who's been Treasury secretary - to sort of be the senior voice. And I think he is now going to clearly eclipse anything that you hear from Geithner in coming weeks.

What White House people say is that, when you think about what's to come in terms of cuts in entitlement spending, the need to make that case to the American people; in terms of dealing with the banks, conveying a concrete message about how the banks will be rescued; then I think Summers is playing a larger and larger role - making it clear that it's not so much a partnership as there's a senior partner and a junior partner, and the senior one is Larry Summers.

WERTHEIMER: Well, we've been dealing with a whole lot of plans and bailouts and programs and whatnot from the Obama administration, if Larry Summers is going to do some kind of a sum up, what is going to be the central theme?

WILLIAMS: The problem is not too big for the Obama administration to solve. And just be patient, don't listen to the Republican critics, stay with us. We've got this under control. That's the entire message that's intended to come from Larry Summers mouth.

WERTHEIMER: NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Linda. Have a good morning.

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