WASHINGTON — If Mitt Romney wins the presidency in November, he will inherit a weak economy, huge budget deficits, and a perilous global economic situation. Among his first and most important decisions will be whom to appoint to senior economic policy jobs to help him deal with those challenges.
The most visible member of any administration’s economic team is the Treasury secretary. Here are some of Romney’s options:
■ Robert Zoellick completed a five-year term as president of the World Bank over the summer, and he has been advising Romney as part of his foreign policy team. The former US trade representative under the George W. Bush administration would likely be a top contender for Treasury secretary in a Romney administration, assuming he did not end up in a top foreign policy job such as secretary of state.
■ Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio who was considered as a potential Romney running mate and has been an effective campaign surrogate, would surely warrant some consideration to be the administration’s chief economic policymaker. At a time that high-stakes negotiations over the budget are likely, Portman has knowledge of both the substance (he was director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush), and a sense of the politics from his time in the Senate. One major downside is that his appointment would leave a Senate vacancy in a swing state at a time that control of the body may hinge on a single vote or two.
■ Glenn Hubbard was chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers early in that administration and was an architect of the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. He has advised Romney in both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. One wrinkle is that an appointment to Treasury could complicate his potential candidacy for the Federal Reserve chairmanship, which comes open in January 2014.
One more promising candidate for Treasury is not an individual at all, but an archetype. Call it the Mystery CEO. In Romney’s long business career, he has come into contact with hundreds of capable corporate executives and could well decide that one of them has the right mix of skills to be a good Treasury secretary.
This was the approach that George W. Bush took with his first two appointments to the office: Paul O’Neill and John Snow, who had been chief executives of aluminum giant Alcoa and railroad CSX, respectively. Neither was on the radar of many Washington policy hands before his appointment, and Romney could come up with a similar surprise. Arguing against it: Neither O’Neill nor Snow had a particularly illustrious run in the job.
Romney has met hundreds of executives and could well decide that one has the makings of a good Treasury secretary.
Beyond those names, there are two more George W. Bush administration veterans who are less widely known but would be worth considering for Treasury; even if passed over for the big job, they could be strong deputy Treasury secretaries or perhaps serve as a close-to-the-president’s-ear adviser in the White House.
Randal Quarles is, as blogger Felix Salmon put it, a ‘‘mini-Romney.’’ After serving in the Bush Treasury, he joined the Carlyle Group; he and Romney are perhaps the most prominent Mormon private equity executives. More substantively, he earned rave reviews in the Bush administration for his competence and team-player approach to governing.
Kevin Warsh served in the Bush White House and then five years as a Federal Reserve governor, where he was among Fed chief Ben Bernanke’s closest colleagues during the response to the financial crisis. He has distanced himself from Bernanke’s monetary easing since 2010, however, which makes him more simpatico with Romney’s economic policy views.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin would be a strong candidate for a couple of senior jobs. The former Congressional Budget Office chief could bring his knowledge of fiscal policy to the Office of Management and Budget or could serve as the all-purpose traffic manager for economic policy as director of the National Economic Council.
Others who had economic policy roles in the Bush years who might be due for a promotion in a Romney administration include Tim Adams, former Treasury undersecretary; Jim Nussle, a former member of Congress and OMB director; Chuck Blahaus, an expert in Social Security and Medicare; and Kristin Forbes, an MIT economist who served on George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.