Among the first announcements President Obama will make upon returning from his Hawaiian vacation is his choice for top economic adviser, a decision that could signal a new direction for the administration as it struggles to jumpstart the economy and wrestle down unemployment.

It’s far more than a personnel move. The replacement for the outgoing director of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers, will have a guiding hand in nearly every economic decision the Obama administration makes, and the president’s choice is being closely watched for signs of where he wants to take his economic agenda in the second half of his term.

Will he tap the business world with a figure such as Roger Altman, an investment banker and Clinton administration alumnus who might carry too much baggage from his association with Wall Street? Will he turn to academia instead, calling on a scholar such Yale President Richard Levin? Or will he go with deeply experienced insiders such as deficit hawk Gene Sperling at the Treasury Department or Jason Furman, the council’s deputy director?

With the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent, the private sector struggling to maintain steady growth and the public ranking the economy as the top concern, Obama’s handling of the issue over the coming months is certain to play a central role in his reelection bid.

Continue reading →