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Obama Recruits Progressive Clinton-Era Advisor to Fill Economic Vacancy


On Friday morning, President Barack Obama will named Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council (NEC), a position Sperling previously held from 1996 to 2000 and has most recently been working as a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and as a Senior Fellow for Economic Policy and Director for the Council on Foreign Relations' Center on Universal Education.

The announcement comes as President Obama looks to fill a number of vacancies in his senior staff, including appointing William Daley as his new chief of staff. Sperling will fill the NEC post in lieu of Larry Summers' recent departure, the Washington Post reports.

WaPo's Ezra Klein notes how Sperlin's appointment continues Obama's recent trend of selecting prior government officials to fill new vacancies within his administration:

William Daley, who was named chief of staff earlier today, is a former Secretary of Commerce. Jack Lew, who replaced Peter Orszag as head of the Office of Management and Budget, held the same position under President Clinton. Robert Gates, who leads the Defense Department, was a holdover from George W. Bush. Larry Summers, who Sperling is replacing, was Treasury Secretary under Clinton. And the list goes on. Expectations that Obama would begin to turn to people whose primary experience was outside government have not, thus far, been borne out in his staff shakeup.

Since leaving his post in 2000, Sperling hasn't withdrawn from the political arena.  During the 2008 presidential election, he served as a chief economic advisor to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign. Bloomberg news also notes that Sperling earned nearly $900,000 working for Goldman Sachs in 2008 and $158,000 for speeches.

It's unclear at this point how Obama's decision to re-appoint Sperling to the NEC will play out with the president's liberal base of support.  Many fear the Obama administration is already a little too cozy with Wall Street.

Before news of the announcement broke, The Huffington Post's Will Alden warned that a Sperling appointment would "fuel perceptions that his administration is overly close to Wall Street, installing a policymaker who has not only overseen monumental deregulation of the financial sector, but has also collected hefty paychecks from its leading firms."

On the other hand, Paul Begala, a former advisor to President Bill Clinton praised the decision to appoint Sperling.  "Gene did more good for the working poor in the Clinton White House than anyone else," Begala says. "He was there for them in every single meeting."

Sperling is the author of "The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy for Shared Prosperity," a book that argues liberals should use market forces to pursue their progressive goals. In the book, Sperling suggests a number of liberal policy initiatives including universal pre-school and after-school programs; universal 401(k) plans; expanding the current progressive tax system; reversing the Bush-era tax cuts; increasing the federal minimum wage; and increasing taxes to balance the budget, fully fund Social Security and Medicare.

Sperling has also done extensive work as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, publishing a number of reports on progressive policy priorities.

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