Lew at treasury: The twice-director of OMB has the skills for the job
Share with others:
President Barack Obama's nomination of Jacob Lew as treasury secretary completes his proposed roster of top Cabinet officers -- state, defense and treasury -- for his second term.
Some critics of Attorney General Eric Holder believe that he, too, should leave and give Mr. Obama the opportunity to replace him with someone who has less political scar tissue.
Mr. Lew, the president's chief of staff, is certainly qualified for the treasury post. He will be required to carry the ball for the White House in some demanding upcoming negotiations, within the administration and with Congress. These will include trimming the budget to try to reduce or eliminate the nearly $1 trillion projected deficit. This will play into the larger question of how the United States reduces the national debt, which stands at $16.5 trillion.
The debt is a terrifying financial load for this generation to pass along to future Americans to figure out how to pay. The growing interest on it, the debt service level, also eats up more of the government's disposable income from its various revenue sources. Mr. Lew was director of the Office of Management and Budget for Mr. Obama and President Bill Clinton, the last time the United States showed a budget surplus. He will have to start by dancing between Republicans' pledge to make raising the debt limit an issue and Mr. Obama's refusal to wrangle with them about it again.
Another problem that Mr. Lew will face is the looming automatic reduction in government spending, the sequestration, if the White House and Congress cannot agree by March to resolve that issue. The Republicans have put themselves in the curious position of wanting to get rid of the budget deficit and stall the growth of the national debt, but without cutting defense spending. Mr. Lew will have the privilege of bargaining with them as the representative of the White House. He is said to be a subtle but tough negotiator.
Critics of Mr. Lew will focus on two points, apart from the issues. The first is that he worked for Citigroup. Big Wall Street banks, especially those bailed out as Citigroup was with $45 billion in government money, are not exactly at the top of the list of institutions that recession-struck Americans like or respect.
The other criticism, directed more at Mr. Obama than at Mr. Lew, is that the president has so far put up for the top posts in his second administration a cast of white, male nominees -- John Kerry for secretary of state, Chuck Hagel for defense and now Jack Lew for treasury.
None of these complaints, however, should serve as a barrier to Senate confirmation of Mr. Lew, given his qualifications.
First Published January 11, 2013 12:00 am