WASHINGTON — Selecting a new treasury secretary is tough in normal times, and these are anything but.
Experts say the new secretary must bring sufficient clout to Capitol Hill to push through budget and tax deals and enough stature to calm financial markets, should they begin to melt down again.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner won’t be staying on for President Barack Obama’s second term. A former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Geithner took over when the global economy was in freefall and financial markets were tumbling.
The economy has since stabilized, albeit returning to an anemic pace of growth and subpar job creation. Recession isn’t necessarily in the rearview mirror, however, as the so-called “fiscal cliff’ approaches. Failure to reach a deal on taxes and budget cuts could leave the economy hurtling backward.
Meanwhile, Europe’s debt crisis appears far from over and can still contaminate global markets. And a new leadership team is about to take power in China.
It’s against that backdrop that the president will select a replacement. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday that Geithner plans to stay through the inauguration in January and will be a “key participant” in negotiations on the fiscal cliff — a series of tax measures that have expired, or are set to expire at year’s end, along with automatic, deep budget cuts that will take effect unless lawmakers agree to an alternative plan.
Almost unanimously, experts said that Geithner’s replacement needs to be someone with muscle in Washington and luster to please Wall Street and global financiers. Those aren’t always qualities easily found in a single person.
The name most discussed as Obama’s pick is Jack Lew, currently his chief of staff and a longtime Washington insider, having also served as the administration’s budget director. Although disliked by some key congressional Republicans, Lew knows policy issues inside and out and has the president’s ear.
The two other most frequently mentioned names have more heft outside the nation’s capital, but for that reason they may have limited chances.
Erskine Bowles was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and the co-author of an exhaustive report last year by a presidential commission that offered a way forward on the nation’s twin crises of debts and deficits. Financial markets like Bowles, and he has a reputation for being both a numbers wonk and someone who can reach across the aisle.
The other top choice said to be under consideration is Larry Fink, founder of BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, with more than $1 trillion in U.S. pension funds under its management. He is versed on financial regulation and global finance, is a heavyweight in the financial sector and, perhaps more importantly, doesn’t have the stigma of being a Wall Street banker.
“He’s a very well-respected person in the financial community and neither he nor Bowles would have any trouble getting through confirmation, or would Lew,” said Laurence Meyer, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.