"It's hard for me to believe someone gives you $900,000 and you don't feel positively disposed toward them," said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research.
But Greenstein defended Sperling as an advocate of policies that help low and moderate income families and especially children.
"That's not exactly what comes to mind when this label gets thrown around that he has ties to Wall Street," Greenstein said. [See 2010: The Year in Cartoons.]
As a counselor to Geithner, Sperling has worked closely with the president and played a key role in budget negotiations and the administration's small business initiatives. Administration officials say Sperling made a strong impression on the president last month when he helped secure a compromise with Republican lawmakers on a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all income earners.
The selection process for the council dragged on for months. Summers announced his resignation in September, and many in the administration knew well before then that he planned to return to Harvard.
Some White House aides originally wanted Obama to name a business leader to the council job as a way to give the private sector a greater voice in the administration and ease the perception that the president is anti-business. But finding a CEO with economic credentials proved difficult and the White House thinking evolved over time.
Officials became more inclined to find another prominent job for a private sector appointee while leaving the council post to a policy heavyweight who could coordinate the advice Obama receives from throughout the administration.