Obama closes in on crucial economic policy adviser

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The Independent Online

President Barack Obama could still be several weeks from picking a replacement for Larry Summers to serve as his chief economic adviser, raising questions about the direction of US economic policy.

The White House is believed to be weighing two former senior advisers to the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, as well the head of Yale University, Richard Levin, to run an economic team that has been almost completely depleted by resignations over the past year.

One leading candidate, Roger Altman, a former deputy Treasury Secretary who now runs his own Wall Street advisory firm, was called to the White House for meetings with officials weeks ago, but Mr Obama's press secretary signalled that no decision was imminent. Robert Gibbs told CNN's State Of The Nation programme that the President wanted to "take some time to make a good decision ... It's an important part of our economic team."

An appointment was expected by mid-January, he added.

Mr Summers, whose official title is director of the National Economic Council, said in September that he would return to his post as a Harvard University professor after the midterm elections in November. His was the most high-profile departure from the economic team that has shaped the Obama administration's response to the worst recession and financial crisis since the 1930s.

Peter Orszag, the budget director, and senior economic adviser Christina Romer have already departed, leaving Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, as the only senior member of the Obama economic team still in his original post.

Some Washington insiders have suggested Mr Geithner could also be a candidate for the NEC directorship, but Mr Gibbs signalled at the weekend that there were unlikely to be cabinet-level changes. "There is obviously a lot that has to be done at Treasury to implement financial reform and at [the Department of Health and Human Services] to implement healthcare reform and I think we have a very talented team," he said.

Another candidate is Gene Sperling, who has already held the post of NEC director, under President Bill Clinton, and who is now an adviser to the Treasury Secretary.

Mr Altman was vice-chairman of the private equity firm Blackstone and is now chairman of Evercore Partners, which recently worked as an adviser on the government-sponsored restructuring of the car-maker General Motors.