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Obama Says Confirmation Process Hurts Choosing Business Leaders

By Julianna Goldman and Hans Nichols
December 05, 2012 12:01 AM EST 59 Comments

President Barack Obama says he is in favor of choosing a business leader for his economic team in a second term if talented executives can be convinced the U.S. Senate confirmation process isn’t too disheartening.

“Not only is it something I’m considering, I’d love to do it,” the president said on Bloomberg Television in his first interview since winning re-election. “It’s something I would have loved to have done in the first term.”

“One of the biggest problems we’ve got in terms of recruiting business leaders into the administration is the confirmation process has become so miserable, so drawn out, that for successful folks to want to put themselves through that process, you know, a lot of folks are just shying away,” he said.

Obama’s advisers have considered Chief Executive Officer Mohamed El-Erian of Pacific Investment Management Co., which manages the world’s biggest bond fund, for a role in the administration, said a person familiar with the matter. El-Erian declined to comment on the possibility.

The president also sounded optimistic about the economy if the administration and Congress can avoid a repeat of what he called the “crisis” that preceded raising the nation’s debt ceiling last year.

“America is poised to take off,” he said. “Let’s make sure that we don’t have a self-inflicted wound, because there are a lot of silly games played up on Capitol Hill.”

Obama today is scheduled to address more than 100 chief executive officers at the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable in Washington. He also plans to take questions.

Good Fit

On new cabinet appointments, three positions might be a good fit for a business leader: secretary of the Treasury or Commerce Department or director of the National Economic Council, said two people familiar with the matter. It might also be possible to create a high-level position or install an executive as one of Obama’s three senior advisers, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While the Treasury and Commerce positions require Senate confirmation, Obama can appoint the head of the National Economic Council without the Senate’s approval.

The current head of the council is Gene Sperling, who served in the same role during the Clinton administration. When Lawrence Summers left that position at the end of 2010, Obama considered at least one Wall Street executive, Roger Altman, the founder of Evercore Partners Inc., for the job, along with Richard Levin, president of Yale University.

He eventually settled on Sperling, who had been working at the Treasury Department as a counselor to Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

Choosing Lew

For Treasury secretary, Obama may favor White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, said the people familiar with the matter. Obama doesn’t appear to have made a decision and may wait until the so-called fiscal cliff budget dispute is resolved, they said.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has suggested JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon to head the Treasury Department.

“If we did run into problems in markets, I think he would actually be the best person you could have in the job,” Buffett said in response to a question from television interviewer Charlie Rose on Nov. 27. “World leaders would have confidence in him.”

The Commerce Department is headed by an acting secretary, Rebecca Blank, an economist who took over for John Bryson after he resigned in June for health reasons following a seizure.

Advisory Panels

If Obama does choose a business executive to fill the commerce job, it could be Steve Case, co-founder of America Online Inc., chairman of investment company Revolution LLC, and a member of the president’s jobs council. Obama could also pick from others on his advisory panels, whose members include the chief executives of General Electric Co., Boeing Co. (BA) and Xerox Corp.

In the Bloomberg TV interview, Obama acknowledged his relationship with the business community is “skewed,” and he laid the blame on some of the “tough things like health-care reform and most particularly around Wall Street reform.”

During the presidential campaign, Obama said he wanted to create a “secretary of business,” streamline federal agencies and improve relations with business leaders.

“We should have one secretary of business instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like giving loans to SBA or helping companies with exports,” Obama in an Oct. 29 interview on MSNBC. “There should be a one-stop shop.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net; Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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