TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: The White House announced yesterday that Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council, is going to leave by the end of the year to go back to Harvard. Coming as it does at the end of a wave of mid-term resignations from key administration economic jobs, Summers’ departure does make one wonder whether policy changes might be in the offing at the White House.
Sarah Rosen Wartell was the deputy director of the National Economic Council in the Clinton White House. Sarah, welcome to the program.
Sarah Rosen Wartell:Thank you, glad to be here.
RYSSDAL: Do me a favor and take 30 seconds and remind us what the director of the National Economic Council actually does.
ROSEN WARTELL: They have two principal functions: The first is that they run and oversee the deliberative process by which many different voices from throughout the administration come together to advise the president on economic policy, and then also it’s one of the president’s most important economic advisors himself, as long with the Treasury Secretary, the director of the OMB and the chairman of the CEA.
RYSSDAL: In that policy coordination role, it’s something of an honest broker, right?
ROSEN WARTELL: Certainly. The sort of norm is always that you make sure there is a good opportunity for all the president’s advisers to be heard and also then, at the end, provide your own counsel.
RYSSDAL: So given that, and given the fact that Larry Summers is going back to Harvard, is it possible this move could or might signal a change in economic policy from the White House?
ROSEN WARTELL: I don’t think it’s going to be a major change. I think it’s going to be a movement to the next phase of the administration’s economic strategy. They really felt from the beginning that there were some key foundational elements they had to put in place: Recovery Act, health care, financial systems reform. And they’ve made crystal clear that moving forward, creating jobs in the economy is going to be job one for the president and for his entire team. And the new director will have that as their principal charge.
RYSSDAL: What else might they do then? Other than jobs, there’s the deficit, there’s trade — there’s a lot going on.
ROSEN WARTELL: Well, in some ways all of this relates to how do we create a globally competitive economy that allows us to keep consumption high, people employed, savings levels up, bring the business community and all other parts of the economy together to build up the kind of infrastructure, the architecture, the new economy that’s going to work not only through the recession but into this next era.
RYSSDAL: You mentioned bringing businesses along. What do you make of the talk that the president might pick somebody with a business background — a CEO perhaps, to run this thing?
ROSEN WARTELL: There’s been a lot of concern amongst some in the business community that they would like to see someone with more business background in the administration. I do think it would make sense for them to do that. It would valuable if they had a progressive-minded business leader who could partner with the business community and talk to them about how they come to the table in the job creations challenge.
RYSSDAL: You were in the Clinton White House, helping to run the National Economic Council there. Could you sort of compare and contrast your experience versus an experience in this White House with these challenges? Is the National Economic Council more relevant, less relevant?
ROSEN WARTELL: Oh, you know, the importance of the economy to the challenges this country faces right now has never been greater. It certainly didn’t feel unimportant in my day; we worked extremely hard. NEC really became central to organizing so much of our international and domestic policy agenda. But the pressures on the current team is like nothing that we ever experienced, and I think that we have to remember that this team has really brought us a remarkable way from where they were the first day, and under enormous, enormous pressure.
RYSSDAL: Sarah Rosen Wartell is an executive vice president at the Center for American Progress. She’s also a former deputy director at the National Economic Council under President Clinton. Sarah, thanks a lot for your time.
ROSEN WARTELL: It was my pleasure, thanks for having me.
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