Who's on Team Erskine for Treasury Secretary?

When asked about the lineup for President Obama’s second term cabinet, I note that it’s shaping up to be stocked with guys who are more in line with the Obama agenda than the first-term members in those same positions were (i.e., Clinton and Kerry, Gates/Panetta and Hagel, Panetta/Petraeus and Brennan). It’s his time to stop trying to show that he’s a team player and not worry about consensus picks as he’s not facing re-election. When touting his aisle-crossing prowess in picking former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) for the Pentagon, for instance, you don’t hear that Hagel’s been chairman of the president’s intelligence advisory board since 2009 — it’s not a bold Republican pick; it’s a confidante pick.


So with Tim Geithner reportedly leaving the Treasury Department at the end of the month, the smartest pick from the Democratic ranks will not likely be Obama’s selection. As early as tomorrow, Obama is expected to nominate Jack Lew, his chief of staff, to fill Geithner’s seat.

If there’s ever a reason to be on Team Erskine and champion Clinton’s former chief of staff for the role, it’s the opposition that’s sprung up from the left against the left half of Obama’s deficit reduction panel. After all, Erskine Bowles, along with former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), insists that deficit reduction is critical and can’t just include taxes — tax reform, spending cuts, and entitlement reform are cornerstones of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction roadmap. The roadmap, incidentally, dismissed by the same president who appointed the pair to take a tough look at debt and report back.

First, we have a Change.org petition to Obama pleading that he not nominate Bowles (who would sail through confirmation hearings, by the way) to replace Geithner:

Its [sic] time to end Wall Street’s influence on Washington and get our economy back on track. That was the mandate you were given on election day. Erskine Bowles is the wrong person for the job of Treasury Secretary and you were put in the White House by people who clearly expect you to tell the Wall Street bigwigs lobbying you right now–NO.


Naked Capitalism urged that readers sign the petition because Bowles headed the “National Commission to Increase Unemployment and Make Old People Die Faster.”

Timothy Noah at The New Republic argues against Bowles because “he’ll give Republicans everything they want”:

“His disdain for political gamesmanship, his weak attachment to party or principle, and his determination to strike a deal at any cost make him the wrong man to tame today’s Republicans. Like a lot of technocrats, Bowles is a conservative Democrat who has struggled to find a niche in elective politics.”

From Jamelle Bouie, the American Prospect, at Salon:

The most likely outcome of appointing a former investment banker to the Treasury is that you have an administration official who is sympathetic to the concerns of investment bankers. And this is especially true when the candidate is a well-known conservative Democrat who is hostile to progressive policies and interests.

What you can really love about Bowles is that he and Simpson didn’t take Obama’s ho-hum reaction to their deficit reduction plan for an answer. The co-chairs started their own project, “The Moment of Truth,” based on that report because they feel it’s their moral obligation to stand up against the spiraling debt. So if the White House is going to yawn, they’re not giving up and trying to get the public on their side.


Yep, the president has the prerogative to pick cabinet members who are on board with his agenda. The best cabinet members, though, should be a wise voice in the ear of the commander in chief — especially on subjects in which he’s shown passing interest while the deficit balloons out of control.

Simpson has noted, of course, that Bowles wouldn’t want to serve in such a dysfunctional government. “He said he would be very pleased to do that… as long as they move the Treasury Department to North Carolina,” Simpson said on MSNBC in November. That alone is enough to love the guy. Team Erskine!


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