WASHINGTON — When Alice Rivlin stepped up to the podium last December to accept her appointment as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, the television cameras saw nothing but the thicket of microphones that towered over the diminutive economist's head.
The failure to provide her with a platform to stand on may have been an oversight, but in its own way the resulting image was a perfect metaphor for Rivlin's job, and for those of her counterparts at the Council of Economic Advisers and the National Economic Council.
Rivlin, Alan Blinder at the CEA and W. Bowman Cutter at the NEC are the economic workhorses of the Clinton Administration--the deputies who most often remain hidden behind the scenes, buried, like Rivlin's face that day, in the day-to-day work of formulating and directing the Administration's economic planning and budget policies.
But if their names are generally unknown to the American public, the deputies on Clinton's economic team are increasingly assuming key roles in several areas of economic policy making.
Rivlin, 61, has already stirred controversy because of her strong anti-deficit views, which appear to offend the Democratic sensibilities of the Clinton team's more liberal members.
Blinder, 47, brings a respected reputation as an economist, while Cutter, 50, an old hand from the Jimmy Carter Administration, has taken the lead in managing a broad range of economic policy issues.
Here are brief biographical sketches of the chief economic deputies and the roles they are likely to play in formulating policy in the Administration:
In her book, "Reviving the American Dream," Rivlin describes herself as a "fanatical . . . middle-of-the-roader." However, as a Democrat who embraces the Republican notion of "new federalism" and also views herself as a "deficit hawk," Rivlin defies quick and easy characterizations.
"Alice is probably the most experienced economist across a broad range of economic policy issues that the Clinton Administration has," says Barry P. Bosworth, one of her former colleagues at the Brookings Institution.
Rivlin served as a senior fellow at Brookings before she moved to the Office of Management and Budget as deputy to Budget Director Leon E. Panetta.
A founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, which she headed from 1975 to 1983, Rivlin has a reputation for vigorous and frank analysis. While at the congressional office, she more than a few times squared off against officials from the administrations of former presidents Carter and Ronald Reagan, challenging their budget numbers and earning respect as a nonpartisan budget analyst.
Her new role is also drawing criticism. Long before Ross Perot came along, Rivlin was known as one of the nation's leading proponents of serious deficit reduction.
But her tough stance is said by Administration insiders often to be at odds with the views of some of the President's political advisers, who see the Administration's new focus on deficit reduction as a reversal of campaign promises for more domestic spending initiatives.
Her defenders say Rivlin may unsettle some in the Clinton camp because her ideas embrace a policy mix that runs from liberal to conservative.
"Alice is not afraid of radical solutions," says Robert D. Reischauer, the current CBO director. "But her radical solutions are not knee-jerked in one direction or the other."
Traditionally, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers has overshadowed the two other members, but former Princeton University economics professor Blinder was appointed to the panel's second spot in the expectation that he would prove to be an exception to that rule.
Macro-economics, the science of forecasting broad trends and turns in the economy, is also by tradition the preserve of the council chairman. Clinton's choice of Stanford University economist Laura D'Andrea Tyson to head the council thus raised some eyebrows among other economists because of her relative lack of experience in that field.
Recognizing her shortcomings, Tyson asked Blinder take the second slot on the council and oversee its analytical work.
Blinder, a Clinton campaign adviser who at first appeared shut out of consideration for a top economic job in the Administration, got the nod to assist Tyson after impressing Clinton with his economic presentation at the then President-elect's economic summit in Little Rock, Ark., last December.
"He (Blinder) is a first-rate macro-economist with a reputation as a real straight shooter," says Jeff Faux, head of the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
W. Bowman Cutter
Reporting to Robert E. Rubin, chairman of the newly created National Economic Council, "Bo" Cutter is an old Carter Administration hand who has seen it all before, and sticks out in the youthful Clinton White House.