Kerry economic team hearkens to Clinton era

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Sen. John Kerry’s economic policy team is run by two young political operatives who can tap a list of several hundred experts, many of whom served in the Clinton administration.

The campaign insiders are led by Jason Furman, a 34-year-old Harvard Ph.D. who was an aide to Clinton adviser Gene Sperling, and Sarah Bianchi, 31, a health care policy expert who worked for Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000. Furman serves as economic policy director and reports to Bianchi, who is in charge of all domestic policy issues.

They are assisted by Marco Trbovich, a former official with the United Steelworkers of America, who manages labor policy. Like Kerry, Trbovich served in the Navy in the Vietnam years and joined the antiwar movement on his return home.

Furman, the only Ph.D. economist on Kerry’s full-time staff, is considered the one responsible for making sure Kerry’s numbers add up. Ironically Furman’s dissertation adviser was none other than Gregory Mankiw, chief of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. If Kerry were to win, Furman presumably would be at the top of the short list to take Mankiw’s job.

Furman generally gets high marks as an articulate spokesman for Kerry’s mostly centrist economic views.

“He did a very solid job,” said Greg Valliere, of Schwab Washington Research Group, referring to a recent dinner speech by Furman. “He was on message and didn’t sound very radical or ideological.”

If Furman is the economic shop’s Mr. Inside, Sperling is Mr. Outside, known as the master of the sound bite. Although trained as a lawyer and not an economist, he is a consummate policy wonk who served in the White House for all eight years of Clinton’s two terms, including the final four years as head of the National Economic Council. He could be in line to resume a similar role if Kerry were to win.

Another prominent economic adviser is Roger Altman, former deputy Treasury secretary under Clinton. Altman, who resigned under a cloud in 1994 and is making a political comeback after making a fortune on Wall Street as an investment banker.

Altman has been outspoken in opposition to what he has called Bush’s “ruinous fiscal policy.” In an op-ed published in the Washington Post last year, he described Bush’s tax cuts as a “brilliant” political strategy, starving his political rivals of resources that would be needed for any new programs such as health care reform or forcing them to call for a rollback of tax cuts.

Although Altman is frequently mentioned as a possible Treasury Secretary under Kerry, he could face a high hurdle due to his 1994 resignation. Altman was forced out after revelations that he tipped off the White House to a criminal investigation of Clinton’s Whitewater investments launched by the federal Resolution Trust Corp.

The leading 'wise man'
Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin is the leading economic “wise man” on Kerry’s team, consulting frequently with the candidate and weighing on major policy issues. Rubin has been widely credited for many of the policies that  led to the economic boom of the 1990s, including budget cuts that led to the first balanced budget in nearly 30 years.

Rubin, 65,  is chairman of the executive committee at banking giant Citigroup and spent 27 years at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, rising to co-chairman.  If Kerry wins, Rubin is widely expected to have a good chance of succeeding Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Greenspan’s term on the Fed expires in January 2006, and he is not eligible to be reappointed.

Other Clinton veterans
Many other veterans of the Clinton administration, economists and business people are consulted on a range of economic issues, from trade to fiscal policy. Among the prominent names:

  • Steven Rattner, a veteran investment banker and Democratic Party fund-raiser, who currently runs his own firm, Quadrangle. A onetime economic correspondent for the New York Times, Rattner has been mentioned as a potential Treasury secretary.
  • Laura D'Andrea Tyson, dean of the London Business School and former chairman of Clinton’s council of economic advisers.
  • Alan Blinder, professor at Princeton University and former Federal Reserve governor.
  • Peter Orszag, Brookings Institution senior fellow and former Clinton adviser.
  • Lael Brainard, senior fellow at Brookings and former Clinton adviser.
  • Gary Gensler, former Treasury under secretary and a veteran of Goldman Sachs.
  • U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee.