Obama names Goolsbee to head economic council

By Lori Montgomery, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Anne E. Kornblut
Friday, September 10, 2010; 2:02 PM

President Obama, in a news conference focused on the still-lagging economy, on Friday named university professor Austan Goolsbee to head the Council of Economic Advisers and urged quick passage by Congress of a package of small-business incentives to help create jobs.

In his opening statement at the wide-ranging news conference, Obama announced Goolsbee's appointment and again blamed Republicans for blocking his economic platform for what he calls partisan reasons.

"The American people didn't send us here to think about our jobs - they sent us here to think about theirs," the president said.

"Next week, we can end a month-long standoff on a small-business jobs bill that's been held up in the Senate by a partisan minority," he said.

The package of tax breaks and other incentives includes a new loan fund that would encourage community banks to provide up to $30 billion to small businesses, improving access to credit.

"I hope we can now move forward to get small-business owners the relief they need," Obama said, citing the decision Thursday by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) to support the bill.

"The proposals that we've put forward are ones that historically have garnered bipartisan support," the president said. "Everything we've done is designed to stimulate growth in the economy - that's our entire agenda."

The small-business package is part of Obama's proposal for $180 billion in fresh infrastructure spending and business tax breaks. It includes a plan for increasing and permanently extending research and development tax credits for businesses, rewarding companies that develop technologies domestically and preserve American jobs.

Its passage is considered extremely uncertain in the weeks before a midterm election expected to present a major challenge for Democrats.

The selection of Goolsbee, who is already one of three economists on the advisory panel, signaled confidence by Obama in his current economic team despite criticism by some members of Congress. House Republican leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) last month called for the firing of key economic officials because he said they have failed to revive the economy.

Obama has long looked to Goolsbee - a liberal economist whose academic research is focused on the new economy, government policy, taxes and technology - for guidance about economic issues. Goolsbee, 41, was an economic adviser to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and 2004 U.S. Senate run.

"He's not just a brilliant economist; he's someone who has a deep appreciation of how the economy affects everyday people, and he talks about it in a way that's easily understood," Obama said.

With the departure from the council chairmanship of Christina Romer, who will return to the University of California at Berkeley this month, and budget director Peter Orszag earlier, Obama had the opportunity to radically change his inner circle of advisers. Instead, he chose continuity. To replace Orszag, Obama selected Jack Lew, who was a deputy secretary of state and a budget director for former president Bill Clinton. Lew is awaiting confirmation.

Goolsbee does not need congressional confirmation to be elevated to the position of chairman since he was already approved by the Senate as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.

During his time on the advisory council, Goolsbee, who has his BA from Yale University and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has pushed for measures that provide a foundation for middle-class economic security such as expanded health care and higher-education assistance. He has backed ideas that are controversial with Republicans, including increasing taxes for people earning more than $250,000 a year.

Goolsbee has been a prominent public face for the administration's economic policies. He has been an eloquent spokesman explaining Obama's economic policies on TV news debates and has provided a sense of humor to the president's otherwise buttoned-down economic team.

Goolsbee, an amateur improvisational comedian, has been a popular guest on "The Daily Show." Last year, his stand-up routine that poked fun at Republicans and Fox News as well as himself became an Internet sensation.

Goolsbee also garnered some unwanted visibility. During the 2008 presidential campaign, a Canadian consulate memo was leaked that said Goolsbee had said Obama's public statements on trade were "political positioning." He disputed the remarks.

montgomeryl@washpost.com chaa@washpost.com kornbluta@washpost.com Staff writer Anne Bartlett contributed to this report.

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