Why Is Obama's Top Economic Adviser Leaving?

Maybe we should blame Larry Summers for Christina Romer's departure

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Christina Romer, one of President Obama's top economic advisers, is leaving her position as chairwoman of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, calling her service "the honor of a lifetime." She is expected to return to her position as a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. In a statement, President Obama applauded Romer and said "family commitments" caused her to step down. However, National Journal reports that tensions within Obama's economic team precipitated her departure. Here's why:

  • She Was Frustrated With Summers, reports Kirk Victor at National Journal's Hotline. He quotes a White House source, who says: "She has been frustrated... She doesn't feel that she has a direct line to the president. She would be giving different advice than Larry Summers [director of the National Economic Council], who does have a direct line to the president... She is ostensibly the chief economic adviser, but she doesn't seem to be playing that role." (Will Larry Summers go back to his one-day-a-week, $5 million gig?)
  • The Dismal Economy Caused Too Much Stress, writes Alex Wagner, White House correspondent at AOL News: "While the official White House press release states that Romer is stepping down to return to her family (her son will be starting high school in the fall), sources inside the White House said privately that Romer had been 'frustrated' in the job, and that tensions over the slow pace of the nation's economic recovery had created tension among staff members." (Who are the 99ers, the worst off group in the recession?)
  • Summers Knew How to Dominate, writes James Joyner at Outside the Beltway: "Economics, like Intelligence, has too many overlapping advisory bodies.  That means that the ability to work the system and get the ear of the president are at a premium.  While Summers can be a prickly personality, he’s a past master at playing the game."
  • Was Orszag the Cause of Frustration?  Politico's Kendra Marr reports that though much of the speculation focuses on Summers, her "main enemy within the administration" was Peter Orszag, who is also on the way out. He was "a deficit hawk who clashed with her stimulus advocacy." More importantly, "Romer was frustrated by her relationship with Obama. She wanted to have a more direct line to the president, even though she had regular conversations at his daily briefing" (The legacy and history of DC's strange obsession with Peter Orszag)
  • This Isn't That Unusual, writes Daniel Foster at National Review: "It is common for advisers in Romer’s position to have tenures shorter than the presidents they serve. But it should be noted that... Romer was the biggest cheerleader for the idea that the ARRA [federal stimulus package] would keep unemployment below 8 percent."
  • Summers Denies Any Antagonism  In a statement, Summers called Romer one of his "closest allies":
From jobs and recovery to health care and financial reform, she has been central to everything the administration has done in the economic area. Our loss is the economics profession's gain as she returns to teaching and research. As we move forward, I will look forward to drawing on her advice.
  • Was It the Jobs Report?  Politico's Ben White writes: "Some outside the White House speculated that timing of the announcement could be connected to today's July unemployment figure report. The numbers are likely to show the jobless rate moving closer to 10 percent. Romer took heat for predicting the stimulus would help keep the rate under 8 percent."
  • Why Doesn't Summers Leave? wonders Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Daily News: "If Romer was trying to give Obama the opposite advice of what he was getting from Summers, then Romer should have stayed and Summers should have left."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.