Insulin pump to Ward 6, stat!
Needless to say, Gene Sperling is amazing to watch, his best and highest talent is an extraordinary ability to make the substantive policy arguments in a way that makes them intelligible and convincing to the message people and to the legislative people, and he is an excellent consensus builder.
Viveca Novak quotes me on Gene Sperling:
Obama's Secret Weapon Is A Lockdown Veteran Known For Making Calls 24 Hours A Day: In an administration that burned through barrels of midnight oil, Gene Sperling stood out as an extreme workaholic.
His nighttime calls during the Clinton years were almost as legendary as those from the President himself. Sperling would often call domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed when Reed was reading his young daughter a bedtime story.
“In those days, a call with Gene was never short,” Reed recalls. “So sometimes I’d just hold the phone up to her ear and she’d listen to Gene talk” as she grew drowsy.
Those long hours definitely paid off: The 24/7 Sperling emerged as an architect of Clinton’s economic policies, later served as director of the National Economic Council, and was pivotal in hammering out budget deals in the late 1990s that led to the last federal budget surpluses in modern times. Yet when President Obama was searching for a replacement for Lawrence Summers to head the National Economic Council early this year, Sperling seemed very much the dark-horse candidate to return to a post he helped to invent.
With his economic team in disarray and under fire for being out of touch with average Americans suffering from massive unemployment, Obama was reported to be looking for a government outsider – probably someone from the business world who had enough stature to succeed Summers, a former Treasury Secretary, president of Harvard, and respected economics professor. Would Sperling, an unimposing, bespectacled Midwesterner who seems more comfortable behind the scenes than in front of a TV camera, fit the bill?
Apparently, Obama thought so. In early January he named Sperling as his new NEC director. Those who know Sperling say the choice was spot-on-- exactly the right person Obama needed at this point in his presidency. And as a government shutdown looms, having a veteran of the 1995 face-off just steps from the Oval Office could also be a plus for the President.
Back to the Future
Sperling is a pragmatist with a social conscience--not unlike Obama--- according to associates and budget experts. He’s doggedly inclusive, someone who will likely avoid the kind of frayed relations that existed among the White House’s previous economic gurus, including Summers, budget chief Peter Orszag, and Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Sperling is a skilled political and policy strategist and communicator. And he’s tenacious, but knows how to cut a deal – important traits at a time of mounting tensions over spending between the White House and the Republican-controlled House.
“Gene’s best and highest talent, I think, is an extraordinary ability to make the substantive policy arguments in a way that makes them intelligible and convincing to the message people and to the legislative people,” says Brad DeLong, an economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley who was a Treasury Department official under Clinton. “It is amazing to watch.”
“Gene has a full memory bank of what works and what doesn’t, lessons learned, and friends and allies he’s made along the way,” says Reed....
The announcement of Sperling’s name in January as new head of the NEC brought mostly positive comments, including from Republicans who have worked with him over the years. “People here on our side feel they can talk with him and he’ll hear us out,” says a longtime GOP Senate staffer. “He has an easygoing personality, he tries to reach out.”
He also “thinks outside the box a bit,” the staffer adds. “And he’s quietly persistent.” Example: the passage last year of a $30 billion fund for community banks to lend to small businesses. “That really happened because of Gene, he was pushing it for months,” says the staffer. “He worked it and found dance partners” -- two Republicans who gave Democrats the votes they needed.
Another example: Sperling’s role in difficult negotiations over the package to extend the Bush-era tax cuts late last year. Sperling pushed hard for the deal to include a “stimulus” package of sorts, including (to name the two items Sperling is most enthused about) a year-long Social Security payroll tax cut and a provision that allows, in 2011, the 100 percent write-off of certain newly purchased business assets.
“We felt strongly that was our shot to do something for the economy,” says Sperling., who had been advocating the payroll-tax cut at the White House for months. He jokes that the tax-cut talks, led by Biden, may have been his “tryout for the NEC job.” He got the offer despite grumblings from some in his own party over the administration’s decision to give in to the GOP on extending cuts for upper-income taxpayers.
Sperling brings a different set of attributes to the job than his predecessor. Summers is a bigger presence, a renowned economist who has the gravitas that comes from having had held major positions in academia and the Cabinet. Sperling’s credentials as an economist don’t even include the requisite PhD.
Another difference, DeLong says: “Gene is a consensus-builder. Larry is someone who will try to get to the right answer without really caring whether others are brought along.” A Senate Democratic aide agrees, saying: “Gene is probably more likely to find a path to agreement” than Summers.