Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles is telling friends that he has taken himself out of consideration to be the next Treasury Secretary, but he continues to offer himself as the chief negotiator for the fiscal cliff talks between the White House and Congressional Republicans—an offer President Obama continues to rebuff, the FOX Business Network has learned.
Bowles, the co-chair of the president’s deficit reduction committee, is viewed admirably by Republicans for his efforts to reform the tax code and rein in entitlements. As first reported by FOX Business, he has recently suggested to the White House that he act as a “Czar” during budget negotiations as a way to craft a bipartisan agreement that would avoid the fiscal cliff scenario of steep budget cuts and massive tax increases set to go into effect at the end of the year.
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The answer from the White House, at least so far: Thanks, but no thanks.
“The White House is understandably wary of empowering Bowles,” said one person with knowledge of the matter. The problem for Bowles, at least for the administration, is that he is considered too conservative on fiscal matters. The President wants to raise nearly $2 trillion in taxes as a way to avoid the fiscal cliff and has offered few details on what entitlements, if any, he would cut.
Congressional Republicans are opposed to the president’s tax plan, including a raising of the upper-tax bracket for families earning $250,000 a year or more, and individuals earning $200,000 and above, because such a tax would impose costs on small businesses that file as individuals, and they say, slow down a very weak economic recovery.
Meanwhile, Bowles is telling friends he won’t take the Treasury Secretary post from Tim Geithner, who has announced he won’t serve in president Obama’s second term, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Other Treasury Secretaries, such as Hank Paulson, had made similar statements only to reverse course when officially asked by the president.
But these people say Bowles is adamant that he won’t take the job even if asked by the president. “He’s flat out saying he will not take it,” said one person with knowledge of the matter. “He wants to be the czar of the cliff talks.”
It’s unclear if Bowles is telling friends that he doesn’t want the job because he knows President Obama has signaled he wants to appoint White House chief of staff Jack Lew to the position.
A White House press official had no comment. A spokesman for Bowles had no comment.