WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is considering economic adviser Austan Goolsbee and Laura Tyson, a senior economist in Bill Clinton’s White House, to take over as one of his top policymakers, an administration official said on Friday.
Goolsbee and Tyson are candidates to replace Christina Romer, who said on Thursday she will step down as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers in September to return to her job at the University of California, Berkeley.
The White House declined to comment on a timeframe for Obama’s decision to pick Romer’s successor.
With congressional elections looming in November and Obama’s Democrats under threat, the shake-up in his economic team comes at a critical juncture.
His administration is grappling with stubbornly high joblessness and signs of a slowing recovery from the deepest recession in decades.
Romer helped oversee the administration’s response to the economic crisis, emerging as one of the most prominent voices promoting Obama’s stimulus spending policies in the face of Republican accusations of government overreach.
Goolsbee, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and the chief economist on the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, is a longtime adviser to Obama and was a key advocate for financial regulatory reform during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Tyson, a top adviser to Bill Clinton during his presidency, is a member of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board and a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. During the Clinton administration she held the job Romer is now leaving.
“Those are the two I’ve heard most prevalently,” discussed within the White House, the administration official told Reuters, referring to Goolsbee and Tyson.
Romer’s replacement will have the challenge of tackling economic growth while focusing on the massive U.S. deficit, a hot-button political issue in the November elections that Republicans have worked to exploit.
The president’s pick will be eyed for any suggestion of a preference for increasing spending — Romer was a strong advocate for stimulus money to boost the economy — or deficit reduction.
“The facts are what they are, and they are going to have to pay attention to the deficit,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic adviser to Republican Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“I would be very surprised if (Obama) picked someone who’s a big deficit hawk because he would probably send much of his (political) base through the roof,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Another qualification: the ability to get along well with the rest of Obama’s economic team, especially key adviser Lawrence Summers, who runs the National Economic Council.
Summers has dismissed suggestions that he did not get along with Romer, who said on Thursday she was returning to California for family reasons.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said her replacement would have four big challenges: implementing financial regulatory reform, strengthening economic recovery, reducing the deficit, and boosting exports.
“You also need somebody who can play in a group really well, and certainly Christy was one of those people,” he said.
Editing by Stacey Joyce