There are doubts and criticisms about there when it comes to Obama's choice for the Treasury, but my own sense is that he's made a good choice. But that's in part because Lew appears to be a left hook to the jaw of Congressional intransigents while knowing way more any of them about the Budget.
In selecting Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, to replace Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary, President Obama has sent some not-so-subtle messages: The Treasury’s autonomy will be curbed; the president doesn’t much fear another financial crisis (otherwise, his nominee might have more financial-market experience); and the president isn’t conciliating his Republican and business critics (otherwise, his nominee would be less partisan).
In many ways, the choice of Lew makes perfect sense. Hard bargaining over the $3.5 trillion federal budget looms, as Congress grapples with raising the debt ceiling and trying to avoid automatic spending cuts (a.k.a. the “sequester”). Few people can match Lew’s grasp of the budget. He headed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in both the Clinton and Obama administrations and is said to have an encyclopedic recall of budget numbers and program details. Having worked for Democratic politicians as far back as House Speaker Tip O’Neill, he is also a fierce defender of liberal goals — notably, protecting Social Security benefits.
Nothing like a nominee who defends our values as a nation while being able to deliver heart-stopping facts to angry doubters. ...Robert Samuelson, WaPo
And Jack Lew stands up to -- has stood up to -- Boehner's nonsense. Which leaves Samuelson asking whether Obama is deliberately nominating someone who "becomes an instrument of conflict."
I don't think anything a Democratic president does could match the enmity that Republicans have created -- step by step and with great deliberation -- between the House and the White House. If Jack Lew is as solid as he seems and if he's willing, in response, to outdraw Boehner, then where's the problem?
Also in the Post the other day Jonathan Bernstein wrote off a Republican Senator's comments about Lew.
We now have Jeff Sessions attacking Jack Lew for — get this — lack of “gravitas.” Not drinking too much, or violating obscure laws, but…well, Sessions just doesn’t like the cut of his jib, or something like that. Or, as Kevin Drum figures, it’s just that Lew insists on using real math during budget negotiations. ...Bernstein, Post
It's the same old story: Republican radicals vs. hard facts -- "real math" or anything else that's real-without-quotation-marks. On the left is the objection to Lew's past association with Citigroup and Wall Street.
For three years before entering the Obama administration, Lew was a Citigroup executive, and for the last year he was the chief operating officer of Citigroup Alternative Investments, which made some money by betting against mortgage securities, but which lost many billions more when the crisis came. That crisis and those losses did not prevent Lew from receiving a handsome bonus, paid after he had been appointed to his first Obama administration job.
But that isn't his main problem. His main problem is that he has already demonstrated that he's willing to be a typical political hack, and to give bankers what they want. In congressional testimony, he actually said, with a straight face, that deregulation had not contributed to the financial crisis. ...Charles Ferguson, The Guardian
Which sounds as familiar as the defense of Lew at Forbes by one of its staff writers.
I breathed a sigh of relief when President Obama wisely chose his Chief of Staff, Jacob Leu [sic], as the new Secretary of Treasury.
First off, I’m tired of the knee-jerk reaction that only a high muck-a-muck of Wall Street is sophisticated enough to do the job. It’s a relief to have a man, whom is not in the hip pocket of the big banks, who is not part of the pin-striped old boys club, who’s likely to put the interests of his former brethren high on the priority list. ...Forbes
Still, what I like about Jack Lew is that, as far as we know anything about him, he's first and foremost a budget wonk. Wonks are useful. A budget wonk could turn the federal budget back into what it really is -- incredibly boring and no less necessary. That's a lot better than continuing to see it as a political AK-47 in the hands of a small, congenitally angry, political gang in Congress.Wonky, professional and grounded in decades of staff work in the obscure world of Washington budget politics, Lew has a reputation that is decidedly undramatic. Even partisan Republicans have shown respect for Lew’s grasp of the nation’s finances. “No one was more prepared and more in tune with the numbers than Jack Lew,” House majority leader Eric Cantor told Politico in June 2011. ...
... Beneath his nerdy exterior, Lew is a passionate progressive on the issue of wealth disparity and programs for the poor. In the original Gramm-Rudman-Hollings “sequestration” talks in the mid-1980s, Lew negotiated the exemptions from automatic budget cuts for Medicaid and other low-income programs. In the 1990s, he again defended Medicaid from the budget ax as President Clinton tacked to the center. And his speakerphone outburst in 2011 was in response to the Republican staffer’s suggestion that Medicaid cuts be added to the revivified sequestration process to avoid debt default.
This evident passion for what he sees as the moral dimensions in fiscal and economic policy combined with his expertise in the numbers makes him a formidable opponent as Washington heads into more tough negotiations over the budget. And it explains why Republicans are getting ready for an ugly confirmation fight. ...Time
Awright! A passionately progressive budget wonk for Treasury! Still, many progressives have doubts about Lew's bona fides. The litmus test -- which may or may not be fair (or realistic)-- is spelled out here.