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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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, for one, is firmly opposed to Lew at Treasury, claiming the nominee made "the most direct and important false assertion during my entire time in Washington" when he said Obama's budget plans would put the nation on course to stabilize the national debt.Skip to next paragraph
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Senator Sessions is referring to a 2011 TV interview in which Lew said, "Our budget will get us, over the next several years, to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore; we're spending money that we have each year...."
Financial experts widely agree that a realistic solution to America's fiscal troubles must include significant spending cuts and reforms to entitlement programs, as well as tax reforms designed to bring both added revenue and economic growth. That's a tall order under any political climate.
Lew is known as a liberal and a staunch defender of programs that help America's poor, such as Medicaid. What remains unknown is whether he would also emerge as a successful dealmaker in an environment that has become sharply partisan.
Some Republicans have voiced a lack of confidence in Lew as a negotiating partner, according to news reports during the recent "fiscal cliff" talks. But those comments could also be viewed as a form of praise: He's considered a shrewd bargainer.
"Jack's been around for a long time, he's a tough dude," says Tom Donohue, who heads the generally conservative US Chamber of Commerce. "I particularly like that he worked in the Congress and worked for the speaker of the House."
Unlike some Treasury secretaries, Lew is mostly an outsider to the world of Wall Street, but he has held financial posts in the private sector. He was at Citigroup for a few years prior to Obama's election. Married and with two children, Lew calls New York City his permanent home.
Some advocates for greater regulatory vigilance over the financial sector have voiced concerns about Lew.
“The one area of concern is whether or not he is sufficiently committed to ... implementing financial reform and re-regulating Wall Street," said Dennis Kelleher, president of the nonprofit group Better Markets, in a statement Thursday. "Doing this is vital to protect the American people from Wall Street threatening our financial system again and causing another economic calamity."
The Treasury secretary chairs the nation's Financial Stability Oversight Council and will have an important role in implementing financial reforms approved by Congress during Obama's first term.
Staff writer David Grant in Washington contributed to this report.