Advice On A New Obama Economic Adviser

President Obama at the White House surrounded by some of his economic advisers. i i

President Obama, speaking at the White House in January, is surrounded by some of his economic advisers at the time including Christina Romer, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers. The president is now considering candidates to direct the National Economic Council when Summers departs later this year. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama at the White House surrounded by some of his economic advisers.

President Obama, speaking at the White House in January, is surrounded by some of his economic advisers at the time including Christina Romer, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers. The president is now considering candidates to direct the National Economic Council when Summers departs later this year.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The White House is looking to inject some fresh blood into its economic team. The news that top adviser Lawrence Summers will leave his post to return to Harvard at year's end creates an opening for the administration to add a new face, at a time when many people are unhappy with the way the economy is being run.

"We're constantly thinking, is what we're doing working as well as it could? Do we have other options and other alternatives that we can explore?" President Obama said on CNBC, hours before Summers' departure became official.

The people who've been most vocal about who should replace Summers as head of the National Economic Council typically want something that Summers is not — a businessperson, a populist, a consensus builder, a woman.

"The business perspective has been a staple in almost all previous administrations, whether they be Democratic or Republican," says Johanna Schneider of the Business Roundtable, a group made up of top CEOs. "I think there were times when it was sorely lacking."

A Business Background

The president has been open to meeting with businesspeople, Schneider says. And executives fill a number of Obama's advisory boards. But members of the Business Roundtable feel that's no substitute for having key players within the administration who come from a business background.

"Individuals who have focused on the bottom line,” Schneider says. “Individuals who have balanced competing demands, as any business leader does."

Looking Out For The 'Little Guy'

If some in the business community feel overlooked by this White House, some on the left complain that Summers is too aligned with corporate interests, watering down progressive policies, and bailing out Wall Street.  They want a replacement who's a populist in the mold of Princeton economist Paul Krugman or former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

"The main quality should be, is this person putting the little guy first and not putting big Wall Street bankers first,” says Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. "We're hoping President Obama reverses that and appoints a real watchdog for the public."

A Female Perspective

Summers' exit could also be an opportunity to bring another woman into the West Wing. With Christina Romer's departure from the Council of Economic Advisers this month, the top ranks of the president's economic team are now all filled by men.

"Our country is 52 percent women,” says Amy Siskind of The New Agenda, a women's advocacy group that grew out of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. "We feel that kind of voice and that kind of life experience is imperative in getting gender balance and understanding the different problems that our country faces."

Siskind said putting a woman in charge of the Economic Council might also help foster compromise, something the strong-willed Summers isn't exactly known for.

"One of the important skills that women bring to the table is consensus building, which is the exact opposite of what we currently [have]," she says.

No matter who eventually replaces Summers, it probably won't lead to a sea change in the president's economic policies.

"It's more of a PR opportunity,” says Peter Morici, a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. “I suspect the president is going to stay on the course he's adopted. And he's looking for an economist who can help him sell the kind of progressive policies he thinks are best for the country."

Public frustration with the economy and the president's handling of it mostly stems from the high unemployment rate.  Fixing that will require millions of job openings — not just one.

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