Obama wants fast confirmation for Lew at Treasury

Stephen Collinson
1 / 3

US President Barack Obama announces his choice of Jack Lew (R) as the next Treasury Secretary on January 10, 2013

US President Barack Obama announces his choice of Jack Lew (R) as the next Treasury Secretary in the East Room of the White House on January 10, 2013 in Washington, DC

President Barack Obama picked Jack Lew as his new Treasury secretary Thursday and called on the Senate to confirm him as quickly as possible, so he can press on with the work of reviving the economy.

Lew, Obama's current chief of staff, is slated to take over from Tim Geithner, who stood by Obama's side at the darkest moments of the crisis that was hammering American jobs and prosperity when he took office in 2009.

"I cannot think of a better person to continue Tim's work at Treasury than Jack Lew," Obama said, in a White House event rounding out his nominations for the top cabinet jobs in his second term which begins on January 20.

"Jack knows that every number on a page, every dollar we budget, every decision we make, has to be an expression of who we wish to be as a nation.

"So, I hope the Senate will confirm him as quickly as possible," Obama said, though almost as soon as he spoke, his Republican opponents ratcheted up a campaign of opposition against his new nominee.

Lew, 57, is a classic Washington insider, with multiple tours of duty across the government, including two as budget director, for former president Bill Clinton and Obama, and a spell as deputy secretary of state.

His selection symbolically hit the start button on a new showdown between Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill, just over a week after the end of the "fiscal cliff" tax and spending tussle.

Lew will be charged with the job of persuading Republican lawmakers to raise the US government's debt ceiling from its current $16 trillion level to stave off the prospect of a disastrous government default.

He will also be in charge of another row over billions of dollars in automatic government spending cuts now due at the end of February after being delayed for two months in the fiscal cliff compromise.

Lew, who is widely respected in Washington but has taken on baggage after years in the partisan stew, will still likely have an easier confirmation process than other second term nominees like Chuck Hagel, Obama's pick to head the Pentagon.

"Jack has my complete trust ... in the words of one former senator, having Lew on your team is the equivalent as a coach of having the luxury of putting somebody at almost every position and knowing he will do well," Obama said.

Obama emphasized the success that Lew had in turning deficits into budget surpluses during the Clinton administration, but Republicans immediately focused on the more challenging time he had as this president's budget director.

"Under Jack Lew's leadership at the Office of Management and Budget, we saw trillion dollar deficits and no serious attempt to rein in spending," said Republican Senator John Cornyn.

"As president Obama's chief of staff, we've seen on-going dilatory tactics as the nation stares down one fiscal crisis after another."

Fellow Republican Jeff Sessions also hit out at Lew's record.

"I believe this man has been the architect of the Obama budget policy. I believe it's very fundamentally wrong and I do not believe he has been honest with the American people about it," Sessions said.

Given the advantage Democrats hold in the Senate however -- with 55 of the 100 seats -- many Washington observers expect Lew to be confirmed after a period of political bloodletting.

Obama also paid a glowing tribute to Geithner, who had a rocky start at Treasury, but has since emerged as one of the more high-profile people to hold the job in recent years.

"When the history books are written, Tim Geithner's going to go down as one of our finest secretaries of the Treasury," Obama said.

Geithner's sharp intellect is disguised by a humble manner and he is personally close to Obama, who liked his low maintenance style.

"There's (an) unofficial thing over at Treasury -- no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. That would be a good thing for all of Washington," Obama said.