Obama to Name Gene Sperling to Top Economic Post
Sperling was Honored as the 2003 ITA Achievement Award Winner
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will name Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council on Friday, January 7, 2011, a move that will place a veteran policy and political player in the White House to work with a divided Congress.
The role gives Sperling broad oversight of the administration's economic policies as the White House contends with near-double digit unemployment and looming legislative battles on the budget and deficit. His appointment comes amid a broader shake-up of Obama's senior staff as the White House ramps up the president's re-election campaign.
The White House early Friday confirmed Sperling's appointment, which had been anticipated for days. Obama was to announce Sperling's new post, as well as other changes to the economic team, later in the day during remarks on the economy.
The announcement coincides with the release of the December employment report, which economists expect to show a solid gain in jobs but not enough to make much of a dent in the nation's 9.8 percent unemployment rate.
Sperling, 52, currently a senior counselor to TreasurySecretary Timothy Geithner, will assume his new role as the White House seeks to accelerate the recovery and find an antidote to the sky-high jobless numbers. That will place him at the center of a debate with economic ramifications for the country and political implications for Obama when he seeks re-election in 2012.
Sperling, who advised President Bill Clinton and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, is perceived as the type of rare policy adviser who also has a deft touch communicating the message in a legislative and political environment.
"That skill becomes even more important when the Congress is controlled by the opposition party," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group.
The White House said Obama also will nominate Katharine G. Abraham to his Council of Economic Advisersand Heather Higginbottom as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Those two posts require Senate confirmation. Obama also will elevate economic adviser Jason Furmanto assistant to the president for economic policy.
For Sperling, the appointment is a return to a familiar role. He served as deputy NEC director under Clinton and was promoted to director in 1997. He played a key role in the 1993 deficit reduction bill and compromised with a Republican-led Congress on the 1997 balanced budget agreement.
Sperling's pragmatism and his work as a corporate philanthropy consultant to Goldman Sachs, where he was paid more than $880,000, has prompted some liberals to voice misgivings about his appointment. He helped the investment bank design an initiative to provide business education to women in developing countries. He also worked with actress Angelina Jolieto develop education programs for children living in conflict-ridden countries.
"It's hard for me to believe someone gives you $900,000 and you don't feel positively disposed toward them," said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research.
But Greenstein defended Sperling as an advocate of policies that help low and moderate income families and especially children.
"That's not exactly what comes to mind when this label gets thrown around that he has ties to Wall Street," Greenstein said.
As a counselor to Geithner, Sperling has worked closely with the president and played a key role in budget negotiations and the administration's small business initiatives. Administration officials say Sperling made a strong impression on the president last month when he helped secure a compromise with Republican lawmakers on a deal to extend Bush-era tax cutsfor all income earners.
The selection process for the council dragged on for months. Summers announced his resignation in September, and many in the administration knew well before then that he planned to return to Harvard.
Some White House aides originally wanted Obama to name a business leader to the council job as a way to give the private sector a greater voice in the administration and ease the perception that the president is anti-business. But finding a CEO with economic credentials proved difficult and the White House thinking evolved over time.
Officials became more inclined to find another prominent job for a private sector appointee while leaving the council post to a policy heavyweight who could coordinate the advice Obama receives from throughout the administration.
In 2003, Gene Spreling was honored by the ITA with one of the most prestigious awards given annually -- the ITA Achievement Award winner. The ITA Achievement Award was created in 1994 to pay tribute to past participants in the world of collegiate tennis who have achieved excellence in their chosen careers. The distinguished people honored annually as the ITA Achievement Award winners are honored for both their professional successes and their contributions to society.
Sperling was captain of Minnesota's tennis team, which in 1981 was Big Ten co-champion. He currently serves as Senior Fellow for Economic Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to this he was National Economic Advisor to President Bill Clinton and Director of the National Economic Council from 1997-2001.
Sperling, who lives in Washington, D.C., graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Minnesota with a major in Political Science in 1982. While at Minnesota, he lettered on the varsity tennis squad for four years for then-coach Jerry Noyce.
As Senior Fellow for Economic Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, Sperling worked on economic analyses and budgetary, tax, Social Security, and globalization issues. He also served as: Director of the Center for Universal Education, Chair of the U.S. chapter of the Global Campaign for Education, contributing editor and columnist for Bloomberg News, economic advisor for several key senators and members of congress, Governor of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, member of advisory board for Vista Research, and was a consultant and contributing writer for the Emmy Award winning NBC television drama, The West Wing.
Sperling served as Deputy National Economic Advisor from 1993-96 during President Clinton's first term and from 1997-2001 he was National Economic Advisor to President Clinton and Director of the National Economic Council.
As National Economic Advisor and White House chief economic advisor, Sperling was responsible for coordinating the economic cabinet members in making policy recommendations to the President and President Clinton's efforts to institute debt reduction, Save Social Security First, as well as globalization and trade issues.
Sperling (a photo left from his UM playing days) was a principal negotiator for the 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement, a principal negotiator with Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers in finalizing the Financial Modernization Bill and together with United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, successfully concluded the historic China-WTO agreement in Beijing.
Sperling played a lead role in the design and passage of many of President Clinton's other initiatives, including such legislation as the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act/Earned Income Tax Credit Expansion; the passage of the China WTO Legislation; the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit, Direct Student Loans; the Digital Divide Initiatives; the Workforce Improvement Act; debt relief for highly-indebted poor nations; New Markets legislation, Empowerment Zones and CDFI Acts; the GEAR-UP mentoring legislation; new literacy initiatives; and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Sperling graduated in 1985 from Yale University Law School where he was senior editor of the Yale Law Journal. He began his political career as economic advisor to the Dukakis Presidential Campaign in 1988, while also working as a lawyer on several constitutional appellate briefs from 1988-89. He then served from 1990-92 as economic advisor to New York Governor Mario Cuomo.