A Surprise Choice at OMB

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A few weeks ago, it looked as though the successor to OMB director Peter Orszag would be either Laura Tyson, the Berkeley economist and Clinton vet, or Gene Sperling, another Clinton vet and a senior Treasury adviser. Both are eminently qualified, though at the time Tyson appeared to have a leg up. Behind the scenes, though, an interesting power play was taking place. One faction, which I'm told included Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, was pushing for Tyson in the belief that she had experience, know-how, and would make an excellent public spokeswoman--something the White House desperately needs. Another faction, led by NEC director Larry Summers and Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, was pushing Sperling. "Larry and Tim, unless the White House comes up with some better idea, Gene is their top choice," a senior administration official told me back then. Another official indicated that the effort on Sperling's behalf was more aggressive: "The NEC is trying to kill Tyson."

Some of this jockeying played out in the media, which might have soured Obama on both candidates. Alexis Simendinger reported in the National Journal about a week ago, "President Obama's top advisers are seeking an overlooked miracle worker who understands budgeting, Obama's agenda, politics, Congress, the media, management; is perhaps an economist, would go mano-a-mano with economic adviser Lawrence Summers, has no Wall Street or big-bank taint, and is not just another white male."

This morning, word came that neither Tyson nor Sperling had gotten the OMB job. Instead, it went to Jack Lew--another white male, who held the job in the Clinton administration. A couple of weeks ago, Lew's name was pretty far back on the list of contenders. So I think it's safe to say that the White House didn't find a miracle worker. Jonathan Cohn wrote a good overview of Lew on Sunday.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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