Altman Said to Be a Top Candidate to Replace Summers

Evercore Partners Founder Roger Altman
Roger Altman, founder and chairman of Evercore Partners. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Roger Altman, founder of Evercore Partners Inc. and a former deputy treasury secretary, is a leading candidate to replace Lawrence Summers as director of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Altman met with Obama yesterday afternoon to talk to him about the job as head of the White House group that coordinates policy-making and economic advice for the president.

Altman, 64, who served at the Treasury Department under former President Bill Clinton, has close ties to the business community. The people familiar with the matter said he might be able to repair the rift that has emerged between Obama and investors. Altman didn’t return a request for comment.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed Altman is under consideration. The selection process is in the “early” stages and “there are a number of good candidates, including him,” Gibbs said today. It’s “way too premature” to say any of those under consideration is at the top of the president’s list, he said.

The search for a director of the council has been under way at least since September, when Summers announced he would return at the end of the year to Harvard University, where he was once president.

Business Relations

The administration is trying to repair relations with the business community that were frayed by the battles over health care and financial regulations, and to spur job growth to cut an unemployment rate that has been at 9.5 percent or higher for more than a year.

The economy was a top issue in the Nov. 2 midterm congressional elections in which Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate. That will make it more difficult for Obama to carry out his economic agenda, which includes a package of tax cuts for businesses and more spending on U.S. infrastructure.

Obama also is attempting to reach out to the U.S. business community, saying in a news conference the day after the election that he wants to make “absolutely clear” that he views company success as important to the economy.

“Setting the right tone publicly is going to be important and could end up making a difference at the margins in terms of how businesses make investment decisions,” Obama said.

Defending Administration

Altman has defended the White House against criticism that it is anti-business while also saying the administration has made mistakes in its approach.

In an opinion article published July 19 in the New York Times, he wrote that “this poisonous dynamic” must be fixed.

“Both sides should make adjustments, but the business community -- of which I am a proud member -- especially needs to make efforts to mend this relationship,” Altman wrote. “Yes, the administration has made some mistakes. But, on balance, its actions have supported business.”

Altman began his banking career at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and served in the Carter administration as assistant secretary of the treasury. In the 1980s, he joined the Blackstone Group LP. He was deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1995.

Altman has expressed concern about deficit reduction and argued that the U.S. corporate tax rate is too high while income taxes are lower than in other developed economies.

Income Tax Rates

“Our income tax rates may strike some people as high, but by international standards they’re not that high,” he said on “The Charlie Rose Show” on Nov. 2, election night. “But the corporate tax rate in the U.S. actually is quite high.”

The National Economic Council includes the heads of departments and agencies whose policies have an impact on the economy.

Other members of Obama’s economic team who have left the administration since July include budget director Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Austan Goolsbee has taken over at the Council of Economic Advisers. The confirmation of Obama’s choice to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew, has been held up in the Senate.

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