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Sperling to replace Summers as top White House economic aide

January 6, 2011 |  9:56 am

Sperling Treasury official Gene Sperling will become President Obama's top economic aide, replacing Larry Summers, a White House official said Thursday.

President Obama will make the announcement Friday when he discusses the economy at a Maryland window manufacturing facility. Summers left last week to return to Harvard University.

Sperling will become director of the National Economic Council, a position he held from 1997 to early 2001 under President Clinton. Since 2009, he has served as counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and has been involved in key economic policy decisions, such as the negotiations over last year's small-business lending bill and the temporary extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

Sperling had extensive experience negotiating with the Republican-controlled Congress during the Clinton administration, a strong qualification as Obama faces the new GOP House majority. The other leading candidates were Roger Altman, chairman of investment banking firm Evercore Partners and a former deputy Treasury secretary under Clinton, and economist Richard Levin, president of Yale University.

Some liberals have criticized a potential Sperling appointment because of some consulting work he did in 2008 for Goldman Sachs. Sperling earned $887,727 for helping the Wall Street firm launch a charitable initiative called "10,000 Women," which aims to spend $100 million over five years to provide business and management education to underserved women around the world.

But people who've worked with Sperling said he's not beholden to Wall Street, noting years of work he did on women's education after leaving the White House and a history of advocating for average Americans. They said the title of his 2005 book best describes him: "Pro-Growth Progressive."

"He understands there's larger economic growth issues that are important to the business community, but he is also a very passionate advocate for what people would consider traditional liberal interests," said Sara Rosen Wartell, executive vice president of the liberal Center for American Progress and a former colleague on the NEC under Clinton.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: Gene Sperling, counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, at the White House for signing of the tax cut extension legislation in December. Credit: Associated Press

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