January 10, 2013 8:37 pm

Mixed views on Lew as Treasury choice

U.S. President Obama announces his nomination of White House chief of staff and budget expert Lew as his next treasury secretary©Reuters

Barack Obama has nominated Jack Lew to be the next US Treasury secretary, bringing a mixed reaction from Congress and business and heralding a wave of scrutiny during the looming confirmation hearings.

“I trust his judgment, I value his friendship. I know very few people with greater integrity than the man to my left,” Mr Obama said at a White House event, flanked by Mr Lew and Tim Geithner, the outgoing Treasury secretary.

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Mr Obama touted Mr Lew’s “low-key” personality and described him as a “master of policy” capable of forging bipartisan compromises. “Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row. So for all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it – three times,” the president said.

Mr Lew is currently serving as Mr Obama’s chief of staff, after being budget director under both Mr Obama and Mr Clinton, as well as a deputy secretary of state and a senior congressional aide.

Mr Lew has already been confirmed several times to senior government roles without too much trouble, but in the forthcoming hearings for his post as Treasury secretary he will be examined for the position in a tough political climate.

“Since Mr Lew participated in numerous budget negotiations with Congress and with four consecutive years of over $1tn deficits, the American people deserve to know not only that this nominee is qualified for the job, but also what policies the White House supports to get federal spending under control,” said Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate finance committee, which will lead the confirmation process.

Many senior Democrats praised Mr Obama’s selection, saying Mr Lew was the right choice. “He knows that our budgets must be statements of our values and our policies must reflect our highest ideals of fairness and opportunity for all,” said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.

Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Senate finance committee, was slightly less effusive: “Jack Lew has immense experience, and I look forward to a speedy but thorough nominations process. We must ensure Treasury has the leadership it needs as we tackle our country’s pressing economic issues and work together to continue our recovery and create jobs.”

Mr Lew would succeed Mr Geithner, who has held the position of Treasury secretary throughout Mr Obama’s first term, beginning during the depths of the financial crisis. Mr Geithner was heartily praised by Mr Obama and received a big round of applause from the audience during the event to nominate Mr Lew.

Business groups in Washington did not rush to embrace Mr Lew’s appointment, but were not particularly critical either. “He’s a tough dude,” Tom Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said at a briefing with reporters, calling him an “experienced fellow” on debt and deficits. “We’re going to have these debates for a while.”

John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, which represents some of America’s largest blue-chip companies, added that his group had a “good relationship” with Mr Lew.

“CEOs would love to have a business leader or somebody who has a lot of experience in the private sector in that role. Jack has primarily government experience but there’s no question he’s a smart, capable individual,” Mr Engler added.

We must ensure Treasury has the leadership it needs as we tackle our country’s pressing economic issues and work together to continue our recovery and create jobs.

- Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Senate finance committee

Meanwhile, Erskine Bowles, co-chair of Mr Obama’s 2010 fiscal commission who is leading the push for a bipartisan deficit reduction deal, called Mr Lew “terrific” and insisted he would not be opposed to trimming big social programmes despite his solid leftwing reputation. “He’s a leader in every sense of the word. Is he liberal? You bet. Is he more liberal than I am? You bet,” Mr Bowles said on MSNBC.

The Financial Services Forum, a lobbying group for many US banks, also seemed to approve. “Mr Lew is well-suited for the job especially at a time when Washington must come together to address our debt situation and put our nation on a long-term fiscally sustainable path,” said Rob Nichols, FSF president.

One senior Republican in the Senate, Jeff Sessions, the party’s leading member on the budget committee, was vowing to block Mr Lew. “Jack Lew must never be secretary of the Treasury,” he said. “We need a secretary of the Treasury that the American people, the Congress, and the world will know is up to the task of getting America on the path to prosperity, not the path to decline. Jack Lew is not that man.”

The Republican National Committee released a statement highlighting Mr Lew’s work for Citigroup’s alternative asset unit at the time of the housing crash and the government bailout, before his return to government. “Jack Lew received a bonus and West Wing office after profiting off the housing crisis, now Obama wants him to run Treasury,” the RNC said.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, independent leftwing senator from Vermont, also said he would not vote to confirm Mr Lew. “As a supporter of the president, I remain extremely concerned that virtually all of his key economic advisers have come from Wall Street,” said Mr Sanders.

“In my view, we need a Treasury secretary who is prepared to stand up to corporate America and their powerful lobbyists and fight for policies that protect the working families in our country. I do not believe Mr Lew is that person,” he said.

Additional reporting by Anna Fifield in Washington

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