Obama Selects Jack Lew For Treasury Secretary But Who Is He?

Jacob "Jack"  Lew, President Obama’s Treasury Secretary nominee @ PolicyMic

Jacob “Jack” Lew, President Obama’s Treasury Secretary nominee @ PolicyMic

President Obama has made his choice to replace outgoing Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner: former budget director and current Chief of Staff, Jacob “Jack” Lew. Geithner, who has been seeking to step down since 2011, has agreed to stay in the position through the end this month. The choice of Lew, one of Obama’s chief financial advisers signals, possibly, more tough negotiations over budget matters – he was instrumental in several recent deals.

Unless you are a political wonk (like most of us here at AI) you probably don’t know who this guy is, what he does, or why Obama would choose him for the post of Treasury Secretary. Allow me to clue you in….

Jacob “Jack” Lew was born in New York City in 1955. He graduated from Harvard in 1978 and then attended Georgetown Law Center from which he graduated in 1983. Before that he attended Carleton College, where Paul Wellstone was his faculty adviser. In the early 70s, Lew worked as an aide to Rep. Joe Moakly of Massachusetts before becoming a senior policy adviser to House Speaker Tip O’Neill. While with O’Neill, Lew worked as an assistant Director of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, quickly moving up to Executive Director.

In the Clinton administration, Lew served as a Special Assistant to the President, developing policy for the AmeriCorps and health care reform legislation. He spent much of his service in those years heading up the Office of Management and Budget and helping to negotiate the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. He was confirmed as the Director of the OMB in 1998 and served until the end of the Clinton years.

In between the Clinton and Obama administrations, Lew worked at both New York University as an Executive VP and Professor, at Citigroup’s Alternative Investment Unit (kind of curious as to exactly what that is) and on the Advisory Board for City Year New York, among other positions. This sounds like a man who enjoys being busy.

When Obama took office, Lew became a Deputy Secretary of State – which may sound like an odd choice until you know that he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His role at the State Department was of his own design – sort of a chief operating officer, dealing with resource issues. Then, in July of 2010, he replaced Peter Orszag as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (again!). He was confirmed by the Senate unanimously (file that away for later). Then, last January, he moved to the position he currently holds, that of White House Chief of Staff. He has been a shrewd negotiator for Obama’s fiscal policies, brokering the latest bargain on the fiscal cliff. Jack Lew is a real numbers guy.

What about his politics, you ask? Lew is a staunch Liberal, Wellstone was an influence, as well as O’Neill and, while his boss might drift to the right, he maintains the class-warrior image that candidate Obama projected. You’d think that this would make him anathema to Republicans but they generally see him as a fair, though tough-minded, negotiator who listens and tries hard to find common ground and an agreement that everyone can live with. However, he does reject the idea that deregulation caused the economic meltdown and, since he worked as a banker, he definitely has sympathies in that direction.

Since he has been confirmed several times already, it’s hoped that this confirmation will slide right through. But, considering the way that the GOP has blockaded this president at every opportunity, that’s doubtful. After all, he “irked” Mitchie McConnell once so, of course, that disqualifies him (insert eye roll), and his recent role in the fiscal cliff negotiation pissed off John Boehner. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee has fired the first shot:

“We need a secretary of treasury that the American people, the Congress and the world will know is up to the task of getting America on the path to prosperity, not the path to decline. Jack Lew is not that man.”

As an Orthodox Jew, Lew devoutly keeps the Sabbath so we better hope that there are no financial emergencies between sundown on Friday and sunset Saturday. He frequently commutes between his home in Riverdale, N.Y., where his wife and two children live, and an apartment in Washington. He is a fiercely private man, so we’re not likely to learn much more than that about his personal life. Oh, and one more thing – he has abysmal handwriting if his signature is anything to go by.


With opponents on both sides of the spectrum, his nomination will put a few noses out of joint, but what can we expect from him if he does get confirmed? Well, we know he’s really smart and very good at numbers. He’s Liberal and compassionate – former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles says that Lew understands how taxes and spending will affect the poor and that…

“He’ll give his opinion in private and carry the president’s water in public. Jack is definitely left of center, but he’s a pragmatist, he’s a realist. I might have moved (deficit talks) to the right, and Jack would be a counterweight to that.”

That’s a good thing to hear. His time on Wall Street worries some on the left (including me) but, hopefully Lew’s inner Liberal will make itself known. We have yet to discover his thoughts on the trillion dollar coin.

Rumors had been flying about Lew’s nomination in the past few days but only this morning did Pres. Obama confirm Lew as his choice for Treasury Secretary. Lew will not have the luxury of an easy transition, not with the debt ceiling and sequestration battles coming up, Republicans are ready for a fight on these issues – as if they haven’t fought any and everything about this administration – and Lew’s job will be a difficult one. But it looks as though this is one man who is as tough as the job.


Photobucket      T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…