Bloomberg News

Obama Said to Talk With Commerce’s Blank on Economist Job

June 16, 2011

(Updates with comments from Blank in 10th paragraph.)

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama has interviewed Rebecca Blank, a labor economist at the Commerce Department, to replace Austan Goolsbee as head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Another potential candidate under consideration is Alan Auerbach, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said another person. The job will be vacated by Goolsbee when he returns to the University of Chicago this summer.

The people requested anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations. A spokeswoman at Commerce, where Blank is undersecretary for economic affairs, declined to comment. Auerbach didn’t respond to e-mails and telephone messages. The White House declined to comment.

Obama is looking to fill the position of chief White House economist as the global economy faces threats from the debt crisis in Greece and amid recent data suggesting the U.S. recovery is slowing. Payrolls grew at the slowest pace in eight months in May, Labor Department figures released June 3 showed. Other reports showed manufacturing grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in May, and consumer spending rose less than forecast in April.

‘Takes a Nation’

Blank received her Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Her 1997 book, “It Takes A Nation: A New Agenda for Fighting Poverty,” won the Richard A. Lester Prize for Outstanding Book in Labor Economics and Industrial Relations, according to her Commerce Department biography.

She was a member of President Bill Clinton’s CEA under then-chairman Janet Yellen. Among her duties at commerce, Blank oversaw the most recent census.

“She’s a very solid, careful thinker,” said William Gale, a tax policy specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, who worked with her there. “I don’t think of her as ideological at all, I think of her as digging out what works and what’s effective.”

“Given the status of the labor market, she could bring a lot of expertise to the position right now,” he said.

Negotiations

The administration is in the middle of negotiations with Congress over cutting the government’s long-term deficit. At the same time, Obama has said he is seeking ways to spur the economic recovery, including extending some of the provisions such as a temporary cut in the payroll tax that were part of a deal with Republicans last year.

Blank has indicated that she doesn’t think additional stimulus is needed. “What the government is doing right now in terms of a push is not dollars of stimulus, but being smarter,” she told National Journal Daily in article published June 15. Citing strong corporate profits and falling gas prices, she said, “I guess I understand the reason to say, let’s see if this economy can do it on its own.”

“There’s no question we’re in a steady, solid recovery,” she told the National Journal. “That’s the good news. The bad news is there are some sectors of the economy that aren’t recovered yet.”

Auerbach is director of the Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance at Berkeley, according to his biography on the school’s website. He was deputy chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation in 1992.

Tax Expert

“Alan is one of the leading experts on taxation and fiscal policy in the United States,” said James Poterba, an economics professor at MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Two of his particular areas of focus are the taxation of corporations and the economics of long-run fiscal policy.”

“His research expertise is very well suited to tackling the fiscal policy challenges that we currently confront,” Poterba said in an e-mail.

The CEA chairman, among other duties, briefs the president on economic data and helps prepare the unemployment and growth forecasts, including the president’s annual economic report.

The administration hasn’t given a timeline for nominating a new CEA chairman, which is subject to Senate confirmation. The council has two other members, Carl Shapiro and Katharine Abraham.

--Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Mark McQuillan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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