Fed nominations Coming Soon, High Priority, Says Top Advisor

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On this week’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing tonight at 9:00PM/ET, Bloomberg Television anchor and Bloomberg View columnist Al Hunt, interviews National Economic Council Director and President Obama’s economic advisor, Jeff Zients who said President Obama plans Fed nominations ‘soon’, “We’re absolutely committed to filling those spots…We will nominate folks soon. This is a high priority and we’re working on it.”

Zients also said that he is optimistic about U.S. growth for the rest of the year, “We believe that there’s a lot to do given our position in the global economy. We are really well positioned in the world economy.”

To read the Bloomberg News story:  Click here.

“Political Capital with Al Hunt” airs Friday evenings at 9pm/ET and midnight with repeats throughout the weekend, including 9:30am, 1:30pm and 9pm on Saturday and Sunday at 9:30am and 1:30pm/ET.

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Zients on whether the administration will fill the two critical vacancies in the Fed soon:

“We’re absolutely committed to filling those spots, and we will hopefully nominate folks soon and the — hope that the Senate will move quickly towards their confirmation… This is a high priority and we’re working on it… A community banker brings an important perspective table, so that’s certainly part of the consideration of who will be nominated.”

On whether it is achievable to grow the US economy 3 percent the rest of the year:

“Well, as you said, Al, the first quarter revision was really driven by weather, one of the worst winters that has ever been on record.  There are volatile numbers, such as export numbers and inventory numbers.  So we really view the first quarter as in rearview mirror. :  If you look at more current indicators, manufacturing, autos, consumer confidence, housing, four months now of 200,000 plus jobs growth — we agree with the forecasters that there will be a rebound and that we are going to have a solid quarter and rest of the year… You know, Al, it’s hard at this point… to be projecting.  We’re not forecasters, per se.  What I can tell you is when we talk to businesses about their hiring, their book of product — their backlogs, and their sales, things feel pretty decent in this moment. Now, that said, there’s more to do. And we need to make sure that we get on to things like infrastructure.  All of us can relate to bad roads, bad bridges.  We need to fix those. That will create jobs and create economic growth.”

On whether IMF’s assessment of long-term growth in the United States at 2 percent is too pessimistic:

“We believe that there’s a lot to do, given our position in the global economy.  We are really well positioned in the global economy.  We have our historic lead in innovation with 15 out of the top 25 universities; we have the most productive workforce in the world — 30 percent more productive than Germany, multiple times more productive than China.  And now we have this newfound source of comparative advantage in energy, where we’re now the number one producer in oil and gas.  That gives our manufacturers a real advantage. So we are hearing this throughout the world; it’s that we are now, again, after a decade of not being, the number one place in the world to invest.  Fifty-four percent of CEOs who are in the manufacturing sector have plans to bring jobs and factories back to the U.S. So we’re extremely well positioned to accelerate growth.”

“We believe [the IMF is pessimistic].  If we execute, if Congress executes immigration reform, has a big impact on the economy, GDP, and our fiscal situation.”

On what happens if we do not pass immigration reform this year:

“Well, we need to — we need the Congress to execute on what are job-creating measures, things that help the middle class, create opportunity.  I mentioned infrastructure earlier, immigration reform, minimum wage.  At the same time, the president will continue to do all that he can do within his executive power to help grow the economy, create jobs, and expand the middle class.”

On whether the United States should require paid maternity leave for women in the workforce:

“Well, we absolutely should.  And it was very important this week to pull together leaders from business, from labor, from the Hill, from states who are moving out and doing the right thing here.  And we want to lift up those best practices and make sure that more do it.  And at the same time explore what fed policies make sense to ensure — We believe that there is a multi-faceted approach here.  Business are — many businesses are doing the right thing, because we’re all — in the business world, everyone in the business world, which is where I was before I entered government — are competing for talent.  It’s so important to retain and motivate the very best talent, and these types of policies ensure that businesses have the most productive workforces. So this is a multi-faceted approach with states, businesses, and the fed government has a role here and we’ll continue to make sure that the federal government gets the right policies in place.”

On whether uncertainties in Iraq and Russia could translate into soaring gas prices later this summer:

“Well, we are monitoring the gas price — oil prices all the time, constantly monitoring that.  Because you’re right: a rise in, a significant rise in crude, would lead to a rise in gasoline prices, which would hurt consumers here and across the world.  So we’re constantly monitoring that.  We’re in constant communication with our allies, our oil-producing allies, to ensure that we understand their capacity and, you know, we will be ready to deal with any potential contingency. But right now, as you know, the oil situation, or the crude price situation, is we have a slight elevation.  And we will continue to monitor that and ensure that oil prices are such that it supports our growth and the global economy’s growth… At this stage, we’re monitoring in close coordination with our allies.”

On ExIm Bank:

“…the ExIm bank supports exports — last year, about almost $40 billion of exports.  That translates to hundreds of thousands of jobs.  The ExIm bank does not cost taxpayers a dime.  It supports small businesses.  Small businesses exporting is one of the primary ways we can grow our economy.  So helping small business export is very important, and the ExIm bank is central to doing that. Well, I will say, the bank’s 80 years old.  It’s been reauthorized 16 times without much drama.  We would anticipate that it will get reauthorized and we support a long-term reauthorization of the ExIm bank.”

On whether he anticipates similar problems to the small business healthcare exchange rollout this fall as the Obamacare rollout:

“Well, I think that a good team came in and turned the web site around, and to have 8 million now be covered by healthcare through the Affordable Care Act is a very good start.  And I anticipate that we will continue to improve the site, add new features, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to serve small business as well… I anticipate continued increases in enrollment, and, as I talked about earlier, I think the site will continue to add features and become more user-friendly.”

On whether consumer spending on healthcare declining 1.4 percent is an aberration:

“I think you really have to unpack that number.  If you think about individuals who are already covered, there’s good news in that premiums, or the cost of coverage, is very controlled.  So we’re not having high increases, which we did pre the Affordable Care Act.  They’re very de minimis, which is good news. In terms of additional coverage, which is the second piece, if you think about the ramp up of the 8 million new lives being covered, that really happened across the quarter.  A lot of folks joined at the end in March, so I think, as we go forward we’ll see increases in healthcare spending as those new individuals now are covered by healthcare and receive healthcare services… At the same time — at the same time, modest increases in premiums.  Medicare was only up 1 percent in nominal terms, which is very low.  And employer premiums are running half the level that they did the prior decade.”

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