* Republicans, others urge Obama to signal centrist tilt
* White House official says decision is months away
* Volcker: Pick needs to be an honest broker
(Adds Gibbs, Goolsbee quotes)
By Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON, Sept 22 Republicans on Wednesday
urged President Barack Obama to pick a more business-friendly
successor to economic adviser Larry Summers, a move that would
signal a shift to the center.
But a decision on Summer's replacement is months away, a
White House official said.
A day after Summers announced plans to step down as
director of the National Economic Council, speculation about
his replacement focused on female candidates, many of whom
would bring business expertise that some say is lacking in the
Obama White House.
The administration needs someone who has a "good
understanding of what it takes to create private-sector jobs,"
Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Republican
Conference, told Reuters in an interview.
"One of the real problems with this administration -- it
seems like they don't know how. And they don't have very many
people who've ever tried."
Names such as that of former Xerox Corp. chief executive
Anne Mulcahy, former Clinton administration economist Laura
Tyson and NEC deputy director Diana Farrell surfaced as
"A decision is months away," said one White House official,
adding "there are a number of names under consideration" and
the list will probably continue to grow.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama would
consider "a broad group of people representing a whole host of
DRAMATIC CHANGE UNLIKELY
"Whether it's a businessperson or an economist or a policy
person or that, I don't know...The president should pick
whoever he's comfortable with," said Austan Goolsbee, chairman
of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
In a Reuters interview, Goolsbee defended Obama's economic
policies over the past 18 months and said he didn't expect "any
dramatic change of direction" with the turnover in the economic
Summers, a former Treasury secretary, had planned to stay
at the White House for a short period of time and is leaving to
return to his teaching job at Harvard University.
The NEC director, a role created in the Clinton
administration, takes the lead in coordinating economic policy
advice to the president.
Summers' departure at the end of the year will follow the
Nov. 2 congressional elections. Obama's Democrats fear crushing
losses amid voter frustration with the sluggish economy and 9.6
Obama would be forced to work more closely with opposition
Republicans and may emphasize a more centrist message on the
economy, including calls for deficit reduction, as he lays the
groundwork for his re-election bid in 2012.
Although aides said Obama would miss Summers' depth of
experience, the decision on a new NEC director is a chance to
signal a fresh start on economic policy if Obama wants to.
Summers' resignation follows the departures of White House
budget director Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, who was chair
of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Also key to the direction of economic policy is the chief
of staff, and Obama may have to find a replacement for that
role too. Rahm Emanuel is strongly considering stepping down to
run for mayor of Chicago. Whoever replaces him could have a
great deal of sway in the decision on Summers' successor.
SHIFT TO THE CENTER?
With the personnel decisions he is weighing, Obama faces a
choice of either going toe to toe with Republicans and facing
policy gridlock or signaling a move to the center, said William
Galston, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.
"In recent days there have been indications that the White
House is contemplating the beginnings of the second option,
with a new economic approach focused on reducing the long-term
budget deficit and getting private capital off the sidelines,"
Galston wrote in an opinion piece in the Financial Times.
"If so, the president needs a senior economic advisor who
can help him execute this strategy."
Concern over the budget deficit, estimated to hit $1.47
trillion this year, has weighed on Democrats in the
The deficit will become a big post-election issue with the
presidentially appointed U.S. deficit commission expected to
unveil policy recommendations on Dec. 1.
"I like Larry Summers, I like him as a person, I respect
his abilities, he was always a straight shooter," Republican
Senator Judd Gregg said. But Gregg, a member of the deficit
commission, disagreed with Obama's policy direction, saying it
mirrored the "European welfare state" model.
"I don't sense that the policies have changed, so I don't
think the personnel they bring is going to have much effect on
policy," Gregg told Reuters.
Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, an outside adviser who
has Obama's ear, told a conference in New York that what Obama
needs most in a Summers replacement is "an honest broker," who
can take in views from inside and outside the administration.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Patricia Zengerle,
Deborah Charles and Margaret Chadbourn in Washington and
Kristina Cooke and Steve Holland in New York; Writing by Caren
Bohan; Editing by Anthony Boadle)
(For more on Summers' possible replacement click on