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Obama economic team reflects desire to work with GOP, business

President Obama is revamping his economic policy team and signaling cooperation to ascendant Republicans and the business community at a pivotal moment in the nation's recovery and Washington politics.

The president is surrounding himself with veterans of the Clinton administration. William Daley, his new chief of staff; economic overseer Gene Sperling; and Jacob Lew, recently confirmed as budget director, form an inner circle with a history of bipartisanship and experience in the art of the deal.

"Our mission has to be to accelerate hiring and accelerate growth," the president said Friday at a window manufacturing plant in suburban Maryland.

That mission faces political and economic crosscurrents, underscored Friday by a mixed bag of an unemployment report and a relatively upbeat but cautionary assessment of the economy from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Continued high unemployment and slow growth into next year certainly would haunt Obama's re-election campaign. But the ability to shape economic policy is complicated by a divided Congress where Republicans are demanding deficit reductions while many Democrats seek more spending to spur the economy.

Striving to have it both ways, Obama has appealed to Republicans and business leaders who find value in international trade deals. To that end, he is conveying a competitiveness-centered economic message that calls for spending on education efforts to retool the work force, embracing trade and providing tax breaks to businesses.

With a new chief of staff and a new director of the National Economic Council in the White House, Obama also is turning his focus toward tackling the deficit and debt.

"Everybody knows that the long-run fiscal situation facing the country is one that we've got to address, and the president's not afraid of that," said Austan D. Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. "You will see when the president releases his budget in the coming weeks that he's got a tough-minded approach."

With Daley, Sperling and Lew, Obama enters the second two years of his presidency counseled by Clinton era officials who have worked across party lines to cut economic deals. They recall a happier time, when unemployment was low, budgets were balanced and the economy was humming.

Sperling was a key player in the bipartisan negotiations last month that extended Bush era tax rates for all taxpayers, including the wealthy -- a Republican priority -- but also included Obama priorities such as an extension of a refundable earned income tax credit and a 2 percentage point, yearlong payroll tax cut.

As director of the White House National Economic Council, Sperling will have a hand in shaping the course of nearly all of the administration's economic policies, including looming battles with Republican lawmakers on spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling.

"He's a public servant who has devoted his life to making this economy work -- and making it work, specifically, for middle-class families," Obama said.

Daley, a member of the Chicago political family dynasty, brings his record as a banker and political insider to the White House. As Clinton's commerce secretary, he was a champion of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- a pact that left a legacy of bitterness among some sectors of the Democratic Party.

Before joining the White House, Daley has advocated a moderate path for Obama and is a board member of the centrist group Third Way.

On Friday, Obama also nominated Katharine G. Abraham to his Council of Economic Advisers and Heather Higginbottom as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Those two posts require Senate confirmation.

Obama also elevated economic adviser Jason Furman to assistant to the president for economic policy.

The changes set the stage for Obama's State of the Union speech later this month.

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