Obama nominates veteran White House adviser Jason Furman to top economic post

WASHINGTON – For someone with a reputation for seeking varying points of view before staking out a position or offering advice, Jason Furman was once, well, quite the risk taker.

President Barack Obama’s new nominee to a top White House economic advisory post years ago took the stereotype of “on the one hand, on the other hand” economic rumination to a different place.

He juggled. Knives, specifically. On the streets of New York as a teenager. Sometimes, a bowling ball, an egg and an apple.

These days, Furman, 42, is a senior economic adviser who has been involved in economic policy since the Clinton administration. He has advised President Barack Obama through the depths of the recession to the current modest recovery. He is a senior economist in a Democratic White House with friends and admirers among conservatives.

On Monday, Obama nominated Furman to be the next chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers. If confirmed by the Senate he would replace Alan Krueger, who is returning to his teaching post at Princeton University.

Unlike his three predecessors, who came from the world of academics, Furman is a member of the Washington economic establishment. He has been an adviser at the World Bank, to President Bill Clinton, has worked at the Brookings Institution think-tank , advised John Kerry on economic policy during his presidential run in 2004 and has counselled Obama since his 2008 campaign.

“He’s a guy who’s really different from the previous senior economic people in that he’s kind of a Washington insider who has nurtured strong relationship with people on both sides of the aisle,” said Kevin Hassett, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Hassett was among the guests invited to attend the White House announcement Monday.

Furman’s college adviser and friend is conservative Harvard economist Greg Mankiw; his early mentor was liberal economist Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. If confirmed, Furman would follow in their footsteps. Mankiw was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bush; Stiglitz was chairman under President Clinton.

Obama, in perhaps a nod to that reputation, praised Furman as a valued and brilliant economic guide.

“When the stakes are highest, there’s no one I’d rather turn to for straightforward, unvarnished advice that helps me to do my job,” Obama said. “He understands all sides of an argument, not just one side of it.”

Furman’s nomination is not likely to signal a sharp change in Obama’s fiscal and economic policies, though some liberals would prefer that Obama drop his attempt to win a “grand bargain” with congressional Republicans over fiscal policy. They believe Obama will give up more than he will get if he continues to push for spending cuts, tax increases and lower spending on entitlement programs.

“No economic adviser is going to get the House GOP to accept a more sensible budget approach or help us generate jobs,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “Hopefully, they’ll abandon the grand bargain approach.”