Obama economic panel moves into the spotlight

Wed May 20, 2009 1:00am EDT

Related Topics

* Volcker, other panel members to discuss energy issues

* Wall Street keenly interested in Volcker's role

* Obama's "green jobs" proposals to top meeting agenda

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - A high-level panel of experts that has been helping to shape U.S. President Barack Obama's response to the economic crisis will step into the public view on Wednesday at a meeting to discuss energy issues and job creation.

Obama announced the creation of the 16-member Economic Recovery Advisory Board, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, in February, but its work had been entirely behind-the-scenes.

Wednesday's meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m./1400 GMT, will be open to the media and carried via a live video stream on the White House website. It is the first of what are expected to be quarterly meetings by the board.

Topping the meeting agenda is Obama's proposal to create "green jobs" in sectors of the economy aimed at developing cleaner energy sources.

Volcker's role in advising Obama is of keen interest to many on Wall Street, where the 81-year-old former central banker remains a towering figure known for breaking the back of runaway inflation during the 1980s.

Volcker has continued to weigh in on public policy matters since leaving the Fed in 1987. He was a key adviser to Obama during the campaign and speaks frequently with White House officials on financial-regulatory and other issues.

But he has vented some frustration to associates about his level of access within the White House economic power center.

Obama's inner circle on economic policy consists of National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary; current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; Christina Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers; and Austan Goolsbee, a longtime Obama adviser who sits on the Council of Economic Advisers and is also chief of staff on the Volcker economic recovery panel.

'TEAM OF RIVALS'

Some refer to the group as "team of rivals" because it consists of high-powered people who bring varying perspectives and personal styles.

In an interview with the New York Times magazine published this month, Obama said his economic team is marked by "an appreciation of complexity."

He described Volcker as "somebody who has enormous influence over my thinking" and someone who can provide "counterbalance" in discussions.

The economic recovery panel, which includes Democrats and Republicans and people from business, academia, public policy and labor union backgrounds, is intended to give Obama some outside perspective on economic issues.

"The purpose of the board is not to work inside the White House, but to bring a diverse set of perspectives and voices from different parts of the country and different sectors of the economy to bear in the formulation and evaluation of economic policy," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

She said the members of the panel have been conducting their own analysis to prepare for the discussion of energy issues.

On Tuesday, Obama ordered the struggling auto industry to make more fuel-efficient cars under tough new standards to cut emissions and increase gas mileage.

The president is also seeking action on Capitol Hill on a climate-change bill aimed at reducing carbon dioxide and other pollutants. The bill would establish a "cap-and-trade" system that would gradually reduce the amount of greenhouse gases industrial companies could emit.

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