Casting Dual Roles, at Treasury and the Fed
For the last couple of months, there has been a parlor game on Wall Street and in Washington about who will become the next Treasury secretary. After all, Timothy F. Geithner has made it clear he plans to be out of that office at the end of the year whether President Obama is re-elected or not.
But there is another wrinkle in the parlor game calculus: Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, is likely to need a successor, too. If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, he has already pledged he will replace Mr. Bernanke, whose term as chairman ends in January 2014, in just over 15 months. However, Mr. Bernanke has told close friends that even if Mr. Obama wins, he probably will not stand for re-election.
That would be a one-two punch, with two of the most important jobs in the nation up for grabs. And over the last couple of years, especially at the depth of the financial crisis, the relationship between the two people in those roles has been increasingly important. They are the equivalent of roles in a buddy movie.
Lots of names are regularly bandied about for both positions. But they are not always thought about in tandem. So here is a field guide to handicapping the next Treasury secretary and Federal Reserve chairman:
The top Democratic name that pops up when discussing the Treasury position is usually Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton who reinvented himself with his Simpson-Bowles bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit. The business community, on both sides, appear to love the plan and say they love him.
About a year ago, when Mr. Geithner first told the president that he wanted to step down — before the president persuaded him to stick around for another year — Mr. Bowles was at, or near, the top of the list, according to people involved in the process. That may have changed, however: Mr. Bowles has privately criticized the president to business leaders as he has sought to gain support for his plan.
Some of that criticism has made its way back to the president, these people said, so it is unclear how strongly Mr. Obama would support him.
Another, perhaps more intriguing idea has made the rounds: Mr. Bowles as a Romney appointee. Several supporters of Mr. Romney have pitched him and his team on the idea. An appointment of Mr. Bowles under Mr. Romney would be a quick and clever way to show that he wants to reach across the aisle and find bipartisan ways to comprise.
Among the names on Wall Street that are thrown around, virtually none has a real shot, if for no other reason than, well, they work on Wall Street. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, once considered a contender, is off the list. He recently told Vanity Fair, "I intend to be here for many more years," adding, "and I will not run for office."
Laurence Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the asset management juggernaut, has been a big supporter of the president and has told friends he would love the job, but people close to the administration say it is unlikely he would get it, given his title and his firm's previous relationship as an adviser to the Treasury.
The same most likely can be said of Roger Altman, chairman of Evercore Partners and a former deputy Treasury secretary, who is well liked by the administration but may be unable to shed the "investment banker" baggage.
And then there is Kenneth Chenault, the chief executive of American Express. Consider him a dark horse candidate, but perhaps the only person connected to the world of finance who would have a shot. His name was put on a list last summer when Mr. Geithner was considering leaving, people briefed on the list said. Given his history — an African-American who made his way up the ranks at American Express starting in 1981 — he could be the perfect mix of finance background and market experience, but one step removed from Wall Street banker.
The chances of an executive from what people in Washington call a "real company" — as in, not a financial business — also do not appear good. The one name that is buzzed about most, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, is likely to be off the table after Facebook's problematic I.P.O.
Here's a wild card: Dan Doctoroff, chief executive of Bloomberg L.P. and a former deputy mayor of New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is hardly campaigning for the job, but his name was put on an internal list at the Treasury Department last summer, these people said, though it is unclear whether he would want the position.
So who is most likely to get the job under President Obama? Drum roll, please. Jacob Lew.
Huh? If you're a business person, you might be asking, Mr. Lew who? That is probably the biggest knock against him, which gives everyone else on the list a chance. Mr. Lew is Mr. Obama's chief of staff, which makes him very confirmable. A former lawyer and career technocrat, he does not have much of a business background — he was briefly chief operating officer of Citigroup's Alternative Investments unit, between the Clinton and Obama administrations — but the president is very comfortable with him, and that can go a long way.
Now, on to the role of Federal Reserve chairman under President Obama.
It is slim pickings. At the top of the list is Lawrence Summers, Treasury secretary under President Clinton and director of the National Economic Council for President Obama. He's a serious economist who knows his numbers and has a worldview that is similar to the president's. He would be expected to continue the loose money policy of Mr. Bernanke.
But one of the knocks against Mr. Summers is that he has a reputation for not playing well with others. He has had his own run-ins with the president. And if you consider the Treasury secretary and Federal Reserve chairman as a tag team, you would have to be confident that whomever you pick for Treasury secretary would get along well with Mr. Summers.
There are a couple of other names in the Democratic economist world, but virtually all of them would be long shots: Janet L. Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. She would be the first woman to run the Federal Reserve and could provide some continuity. Alan Krueger, an economist who was briefly an assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy under President Obama, is less of a classic choice, but is considered highly by the president.
If you want to be really daring, let's add one more name to the list, perhaps the perfect candidate from the president's perspective: Mr. Geithner. He would have had a year to recover from his current position and may have tired of the speaking circuit. Given his former role as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York during the financial crisis, he would bring steadiness to the job with Mr. Bernanke's departure, and a level of comfort for the president.
Now, if Mr. Romney wins the presidency, the chessboard for possible appointments for Treasury secretary and Federal Reserve chairman becomes a little more crowded.
Glenn Hubbard, who headed the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush and is a top adviser to Mr. Romney, is often mentioned as a top candidate for the Federal Reserve job — and the Treasury secretary job. It is likely that he would get one of the two.
So the question is, who gets the other? If Mr. Hubbard takes the Treasury secretary job, the other candidates for Federal Reserve chairman are N. Gregory Mankiw, who also headed the Council of Economic Advisers, and John B. Taylor, a Stanford economist, though he is considered more of a long shot.
If Mr. Hubbard gets the Federal Reserve job, however, the Treasury role becomes wide open.
Robert B. Zoellick, former president of the World Bank, is said to be among the names in the hopper for the Treasury secretary job. (He was previously a managing director at Goldman Sachs, but his role at the World Bank may have cleansed him of his Wall Street association and Mr. Romney is less concerned about ties to finance given his own background.)
Also on the list is Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio, who has become very close to Mr. Romney and knows a spreadsheet: he was director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bush. Whether Mr. Romney would be willing to give up Mr. Portman's seat in the Senate is a question mark.
Finally, there is Mike Leavitt, the former governor of Utah, who is a close confidant and adviser to Mr. Romney. He is likely to get a big role in Mr. Romney's cabinet.
Oddly enough, given Wall Street's support for Mr. Romney, there are very few bankers or other business people on his short lists.
Whoever gets these two roles, let's hope this buddy movie isn't too much of a thriller.