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Tufts Health Plan CEO no longer in running for Social Security post

WASHINGTON -- As fitting as it may have been to have a Roosevelt oversee the Social Security Administration, Tufts Health Plan chief executive James Roosevelt Jr. has quietly pulled himself from consideration to run the program his grandfather, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed into law in 1935.

Roosevelt said in an interview Monday that he told the White House back in April that he did not wish to remain under consideration because the administration had yet to make a selection. He had a company to run, and speculation of his departure since his name surfaced in January as a possible Social Security commissioner had become a distraction, he said.

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“I told the White House people that it was a timing issue,” Roosevelt said. “Once it was in the media, it developed a shelf life for me, because you can only have that question out there for so long.”

Roosevelt said that to his knowledge, there never was a short list of candidates to replace Michael Astrue, a Bush appointee and Boston biotech executive whose six-year term ended in January. Since President Obama has yet to nominate a replacement, the deputy commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, has been serving as acting commissioner. She can remain in that capacity as long as Obama wants her to, which could head off a potentially contentious confirmation process given Washington’s partisan gridlock.

The independent federal agency faces intense financial and political pressures as a bipartisan group of lawmakers begin budget negotiations this week that could result in changes to the 78-year old program.

To protect the program from large-scale cuts, President Obama has proposed changing benefits by reducing the annual cost of living adjustments increases for seniors. The potential reduction riles some liberal Democrats, including Roosevelt. But he said that is not the reason he pulled out of the running.

Roosevelt helped lead a review of the agency as part of Obama’s transition team. He also served as associate commissioner for retirement policy for the agency under President Clinton.

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeTracyJan.
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