The Notable Mr. Lew

What’s notable about Jack Lew as President Barack Obama’s choice for treasury secretary is not that he is an Orthodox Jew who will somehow be a novelty in government. Lew is a 30-year Washington veteran, with impressive experience in government. Among other things, he is a former budget director for Presidents Obama and Clinton and is the current White House chief of staff. As a result, what’s really notable about Lew is how deep and accomplished an insider he is.

Lew’s nomination comes at a time when the White House is preparing for fights over raising the government’s debt ceiling, heading off the across-the-board spending cuts that were delayed by the
fiscal cliff agreement and avoiding a government shutdown at the end of March. These appear to be the president’s immediate economic priorities as he enters his second term, and Obama is likely to be relying on Lew’s experience as he works through each of these issues.

Republican senators have criticized Lew, saying he was “disrespectful and dismissive” during the budget and fiscal battles over the last two years. Frankly, it is hard to take that criticism seriously. We all know that neither side in the fiscal debate has distinguished itself as being overly respectful and understanding of the other’s position. And, in any event, Lew has critics on the left as well. Progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) point out Lew’s close association with pro-Wall Street Democrats who supported financial deregulation from the Clinton administration onward — which is believed to be a key element in the 2008 economic collapse.

At the end of the day, it is hard to deny that Lew has a deep knowledge and understanding of the
mechanics of federal budgets and can fill a real position of leadership in the upcoming fiscal discussions. But knowledge alone is not enough. And that’s where his insider status comes in to play. Because when it comes to potential reform of the tax code, implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and potential negotiation of entitlement reform, Jack Lew has the rare combination of deep political experience with Congress and mastery over policy that could lead to success.

The Senate should vote to confirm Jack Lew.

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