US President Barack Obama is likely to nominate White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to be his second-term Secretary of the Treasury, turning to one of Washington’s most knowledgeable budget experts to manage prickly fiscal negotiations with the US Congress and steer the still-shaky economy.
Lew’s nomination, expected yesterday, accelerates the overhaul of Obama’s top advisers, with new leaders at the Pentagon, State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Labor. Obama also must replace Lew with a new chief of staff, and that could have a ripple effect through the West Wing’s senior ranks.
A day ahead of the formal announcement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised the expected nominee: “Over the past more than quarter of a century, Jack Lew has been an integral part of some of the most important budgetary financial and fiscal agreements, bipartisan agreements in Washington.”
Lew, 57, would bring to the Treasury a mastery of federal budget mechanics, honed during two stints as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While running the OMB during former US president Bill Clinton’s administration, Lew helped negotiate a balanced budget agreement with Congress, something that has eluded Washington ever since.
Lew’s budget background could help shape the Obama administration’s strategy in talks with congressional Republicans over the federal debt ceiling. Republican lawmakers are expected to demand deep budget cuts as the price for agreeing to raise the debt limit, which is expected to be reached some time next month.
“His resume is tailor-made for what is most important right now,” chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago Diane Swonk said.
On Wall Street, Lew was managing director and chief operating officer of Citi Global Wealth Management and then Citi Alternative Investments. At the start of the Obama administration, he oversaw international economic issues at the State Department.
Lew has long been considered the favorite to replace current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The last original member of Obama’s economic team, Geithner plans to leave the administration later this month.
Lew’s nomination will do little to quiet questions about diversity in Obama’s second-term leadership team. The president’s other nominees are all white men: Democratic Senator John Kerry for the State Department, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan for the CIA’s top job.
One prominent woman in Obama’s Cabinet, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, told colleagues on Wednesday that she was resigning from her post. No successor was named.
Like other Obama nominees for second-term Cabinet posts, Lew’s selection underscores how the nation and the world have changed since the president took office four years ago.
Geithner brought to the job deep knowledge of Wall Street and financial markets at a time when the administration was seeking to shore up the big banks and pull the economy bank from the brink of a new depression. With the economy now stabilized, if still sluggish, Obama’s second term is likely to focus more on battles with Congress over spending cuts and the debt.
Lew is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate, though at least one prominent Republican has already stated his opposition.