Biden’s chief economic adviser leaving administration

Jared Bernstein, chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden and a White House advocate for more spending to create jobs, is leaving at the end of April to join a prominent Washington think tank.

Bernstein will become a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning group that publishes research on economic and fiscal policy.

He is the latest top economic official to leave as the White House crafts its strategy for a battle in Washington over the nation’s ballooning debt and for the 2012 presidential campaign. Before joining the administration, Bernstein was a senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

In the first two years of President Obama’s tenure, the White House was focused on arresting the recession. As a result, it looked largely to programs that would stimulate the economy through government spending.

In these discussions, Bernstein represented the liberal wing of the White House and focused on policies’ impact on the poor and the middle class.

With the recession over, Obama has been turning his attention to reining in the debt. With Republicans in charge of the House, prospects for more short-term spending to boost the economy are low. And that has meant less of a role in the White House for people with Bernstein’s philosophy.

“The economic case is so clear right now that substantial spending . . . [is] the main lever that we have to pull right now to help the economy,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute and a former colleague of Bernstein’s, said in a recent interview. “That’s the debate we should be having. But the debate is nowhere near that.”

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Bernstein’s background would add to the center’s work.

“He brings to the center a very broad range of skills and deep expertise on issues that are central to our work, including the living standards of middle- and lower-income Americans,” Greenstein said. “We have worked closely with Jared in his various positions over the years, and we look forward to working with him on a daily basis as he joins the center.”

Bernstein is close to labor unions and has been skeptical of free trade. In November 2008, in the throes of the financial crisis and recession, he wrote a column with former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin arguing that more government spending to boost the economy was critical.

But as the economy recovered, he also argued that the administration can rein in the debt at the same time that it spends money to lower unemployment. “America’s economy badly needs two policies that critics say pull in opposite directions: more government support for jobs and a credible path toward fiscal sustainability,” Bernstein wrote in the Financial Times this past summer. “[Some] members of Congress believe that, since the worst is over, now is the time to hand the growth baton back to the private sector. This is the same mistake made in the late 1930s.”

Bernstein is not an economist by training; He studied music, social work and other fields and got his doctorate from Columbia in social welfare.

Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this report.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
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