"I never thought I would be sitting across a table from Paul O'Neill," says Reich, who was Clinton's Labor secretary. O'Neill was President Bush's first Treasury secretary.
The encounter encapsulated the diversity of Obama's economic team. The Illinois senator is "very, very insistent" on getting views from across a political and ideological spectrum, says Jason Furman, who directs economic policy for Obama's campaign and referees weekly conference calls to generate ideas.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Jared Bernstein of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute have been asked to provide advice to Obama. The team also includes veterans of the Clinton administration — some of whom helped write the legislation that tore down the regulatory walls between banking and investment firms — and others, such as Reich, who think that such deregulation of financial markets laid the groundwork for today's problems.
"It was a mistake," says Reich, who had left the Clinton administration by the time the president signed the legislation.
Thomas "Mack" McLarty, Clinton's former White House chief of staff, and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs CEO who was in the Senate at the time, say abuses proliferated because the Bush administration refused to enforce protections within the law.
"The goal shouldn't be just to facilitate business, but to protect the public," says Corzine, another Wall Street veteran whom Obama has consulted.
In recent days, Obama has sought advice about the financial crisis from Summers and two other Clinton administration veterans — Rubin, who preceded Summers as Treasury secretary, and former White House economic adviser Laura D'Andrea Tyson. Obama also has spoken with Volcker, 81, an emeritus professor of economics at Princeton University who chaired the Federal Reserve under Carter and Ronald Reagan.
All are deficit hawks likely to give Obama "fiscally conservative" advice, says Leon Panetta, who was Clinton's chief of staff and budget director. Volcker and Rubin also are veterans of major financial crises: Volcker is hailed for ending the double-digit inflation of the 1970s, Rubin for preventing the Mexican government from defaulting on its debts in the 1990s.
Several of Obama's advisers have ties to companies mired in the Wall Street crisis. Tyson is on the board of Morgan Stanley, which paid her $350,830 in stock and cash in 2006, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records.
Rubin is a senior adviser to Citigroup, a company embroiled in the crisis surrounding subprime mortgages that have been given to high-risk borrowers. Rubin's compensation from Citigroup in 2005 was $17 million, according to the SEC.
Another Obama adviser, William Donaldson, is a former Republican SEC chairman who once infuriated some on Wall Street by pushing for tougher regulations on hedge funds and mutual funds. Donaldson also is on the advisory council of a firm that's been retained by a former CEO of AIG. He says he has "no role at all" in the AIG matter.
Big business at the table
McCain's economic team is a far-flung enterprise, including dozens of specialists from Wall Street, universities and conservative think tanks — most dedicated to Republican ideals of low taxes and less regulation.