Obama Unveils New Economic Team

Updated at 7:27 a.m. on January 7.

President Obama will unveil a slate of new advisers to an audience at a green home improvement company in Landover, Md., later today, bracketing the release of what he hopes will be strong job numbers from December by showing off his retooled economic policy team.

Most are veterans of the partisan economic fights of the 1990s.

Gene Sperling, 52, will be director of the National Economic Council, reprising a role he played during the boom years of the Clinton administration. His principal deputy will be Jason Furman, also a Clinton-era economist and currently an NEC deputy. Obama will add Katharine G. Abraham, a professor at the University of Maryland, to his Council of Economic Advisors, and he will promote Heather Higginbottom, a deputy on his domestic policy council, to deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.


The indefatigable Sperling was a fierce advocate for some of Obama's controversial interventionist policies early in his term, including the $85 billion auto bailout. His role, detailed in a book by another participant in the bailout, included his warning that "it's over for Detroit" if the administration failed to proceed, an outburst that helped persuade Obama to include Chrysler in the bailout. The Treasury Department announced in December it would recoup all but $9 billion of the money it shelled out to the companies.

Sperling is famous for his long hours, especially during the Clinton administration, where he was known for pulling all-nighters and living like a medical resident. He once chirped: "Vending machine food is underrated," a reference to the kinds of grim nocturnal meals he was known to eat.

In the Obama era, the White House credits Sperling with the proposal to reduce by 2 percentage points the payroll tax as a stimulus measure to be included in the president's tax-cut deal with Republicans. Some liberal Democrats view that measure as evidence that Sperling is cavalier about the sanctity of the Social Security program and circulated articles last night pointing to his 2005 support for the idea of adding a private account option alongside the guaranteed benefit.

Sperling holds a juris doctorate from Yale Law School and does not have a Ph.D. in economics. He served as NEC director when President Clinton had to govern with a Republican Congress. Earlier in his career, he helped craft Clinton's 1993 stimulus package, which included a rise in marginal tax rates for the rich. He had a hand in most other notable Clinton-era policies, including a trade agreement with China, but was a peripheral player in some, including the relaxing of banking regulations.

After Democrats left power, Sperling spent time in the private and nonprofit sectors, most notably as an adviser to Goldman Sachs (he was compensated for running a charity program) and as the author of a book on how to educate women in the developing world. Before joining the Treasury Department as a counselor to Secretary Timothy Geithner, Sperling, like many Clinton administration officials, served as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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