Jacob Lew: Is 'safe' choice for Treasury also a good choice? (+video)
Jacob Lew is valued by Obama as a Beltway numbers guy able to endure high-stakes budget fights. But some critics worry he won't tackle fast-rising debt. And the Treasury job could demand big duties beyond fiscal strategizing.
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Mr. Lew knows the federal budget from top to bottom the way few do, even other Beltway insiders. That gives him high value to the Obama administration as it seeks to "win" epic contests, in the next few weeks and years, over the shape of big-ticket entitlement programs, other federal spending, and the US tax code.
He's widely viewed among Mr. Obama's fellow Democrats as a safe choice, a known quantity already on the administration's inside.
If confirmed by the Senate, he would succeed outgoing Secretary Timothy Geithner at at time when the nation faces growing pressure from financial markets to bring chronic federal budget deficits under control. Obama views Lew, who has already held prominent posts in the administration, as someone he can trust with this high-stakes job.
"Throughout his career, Jack Lew has proven a successful and effective advocate for middle class families who can build bipartisan consensus," a senior White House official said in a statement released Thursday morning, ahead of the president's planned announcement. The official noted that Lew has directed the Office of Management and Budget under both Obama and President Bill Clinton, "negotiating a historic agreement with Congress" in the 1990s and "leading the negotiations of the bipartisan Budget Control Act in 2011."
Lew has been serving, most recently, as White House chief of staff, a testament to Obama's confidence in his management skills.
For all the experience he brings and all the praise that's coming his way, Lew is also relatively untested in some important areas. His readiness to respond to a financial crisis, were it to occur on his watch, is unclear. And the next four years could be marked by important demands for financial leadership on the global stage, not just by maneuvering over domestic policy.
His potential nomination has been hovering in news headlines for weeks, as Mr. Geithner's expected departure neared. During that time, his name has sparked little controversy, in contrast to concerns that have arisen surrounding Chuck Hagel, Obama's nominee for secretary of Defense. The military veteran and former US senator has been under fire for everything from positions on Israel and Iran to an alleged antigay streak.
Still, some Senate Republicans may put up forceful opposition to Lew's nomination.