POLITICS
01/14/2011 04:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Biden's Centrist New Chief Of Staff Divides Progressives

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's appointment of yet another veteran of the Clinton White House, and a centrist Democrat, to boot, has produced a bit of friction within a progressive community already wary of this White House's trajectory.

The White House announced on Friday that Bruce Reed would be joining the administration as Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff. A veteran of President Barack Obama's deficit commission, Reed has served since 2001 as CEO of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Prior to that, he served in the Clinton White House, where he helped steer that administration's philosophy of triangulation.

None of those details particularly endear Reed to progressives. And in the wake of his appointment, some expressed concern that Reed would serve as a powerful conduit for the deficit commission's more draconian entitlement reforms.

A senior administration official scoffed at the notion, noting that the staff structure really wouldn't permit a development like that to take place. For starters, Reed was going to Biden's office, not Obama's. And even then, the chief "advisor on these matters remains Jared Bernstein," the official said, referencing the vice president's top economist.

Reed has his backers, as well. Andy Stern, a fellow deficit commission member and the former head of the Service Employees International Union, said of the incoming chief of staff: "He's very capable, an incredible hard worker and innovative thinker."

If nothing else, Reed and other incoming administration officials understand how to handle Republican critics, said Neera Tanden, the chief operating officer of the administration-linked Center for American Progress, who worked alongside Reed in the Clinton White House.

"I think we as progressives should be prepared for having to deal with large-scale pitchfork battles over the next two years," Tanden told The Huffington Post. "And what a lot of these people have in common is their ability to deal with Republicans and outmaneuver Republicans. So having people with a lot of that experience is an asset for the progressive."

Some prominent progressives, however, remain skeptical that Reed doesn't have a soft spot for the Republicans he is ostensibly being asked to outmaneuver.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said he wasn't particularly concerned about the role Reed would have on Social Security or Medicare policy since, after all, "this is not a top level position." But the effect that Reed would have on the overall ethos inside the White House, Baker said, had him worried. By way of explanation, he related the following story:

I was at a Brookings event last month on the deficit and Bruce Reed was honored as the leadoff speaker based on his role as lead staffer for the Bowles-Simpson commission.

Anyhow, during his talk, Reed said that the commission saw itself as paving the path for divided government. This was striking because at the time the commission was established, there was not divided government, the Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress by large margins.

Perhaps by the summer, with the polls looking bad for the Dems, divided government seemed a more likely prospect, but it still seems rather presumptuous for a commission of this sort to be planning its actions based on its electoral predictions.

Anyhow, I think this says something about Reed's thinking. Clearly he is not a highly partisan Democrat, which some people might think is good and some might think is bad.

Reed declined to comment.