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Gene B. Sperling may return to familiar turf

By A. James Memmott

January 14, 2009 at 11:19am

Gene B. Sperling, a man familiar with the real and the fictional West Wing, may be signing on with the Obama administration.

The New York Times reported Monday that if Timothy F. Geithner is confirmed as the next Treasury secretary, Sperling will become his adviser on fiscal policy.

This was before Geithner ran into questions about his late payment of some federal taxes, a possible bump in the road in what had been thought to be an easy route to Senate confirmation.

Sperling, 50, was an economic power in the Bill Clinton administration, serving as the president’s national economic adviser and then as the chairman of the National Economic Council.

He then put his eight years at the White House to good use, signing on with “The West Wing,” the NBC series that chronicled the ups and downs of a fictional Democratic administration.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Sperling served as a consultant or writer on 18 episodes between 2001 and 2003. Sperling’s wife, Allison Abner, was also a writer on the show.

After leaving government in 2001, Sperling kept his ties with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, later serving as an economic adviser on her presidential campaign.

Even though he was on the other team during the presidential primary, Sperling seemed a likely candidate for a post in the Obama administration, given his many links to Obama insiders.

He and John Podesta, the head of Obama’s transition team, worked side by side at the Clinton White House, Podesta as an assistant to the president who went on to become chief of staff.

The Sperling-Podesta connection continued after Clinton’s second term, as Sperling is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, the Washington think tank that Podesta heads.

Rahm Emanuel, who will be Obama’s chief of staff, was also an adviser to Clinton, working at the White House with Sperling.

And Lawrence Summers, who will head Obama’s National Economic Council, was part of the Bill Clinton administration, as well, serving as Treasury secretary.

Finally, there’s the Robert E. Rubin connection, a vital asset for any Obama appointee. Rubin was Treasury secretary from 1995 to 1995, roughly the same time that Sperling headed the National Economic Council. And Sperling is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank that includes Rubin on its board of directors.

The author of The Pro-Growth Progressive, published in 2005, Sperling also writes for Bloomberg News.

He has taken a special interest in the issues of global education, hunger and debt relief, a concern that has linked him with the singer Bono.

During the Clinton administration, Sperling was Bono’s go-to-guy at the White House, lobbying Clinton on Bono’s behalf.

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