Jack Lew Is A Great Choice For Treasury Secretary
Anyone who was surprised by yesterday's announcement that the president had nominated White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary either hasn't been reading the tea leaves correctly or were too distracted by the fiscal cliff to notice that the stars were all aligned for this to happen.
The fact that Lew, who had taken the lead in many previous budget negotiations, was all-but-invisible during the recent fiscal cliff discussions was a sure sign that the White House wanted to protect him from any criticism over the results that might come back to bite during confirmation hearings. Lew was involved, but he wasn't out front.
The tea leaves have also pointed to Lew for some time because:
1. The usual background for a Treasury secretary -- deep Wall Street experience -- wasn't available to the White House this time because financial executives are still considered politically toxic inside the beltway.
2. The biggest fights for the next Treasury secretary will be over taxes, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Lew knows more about those topics than anyone else in the administration.
3. With big confirmation fights on the horizon over the White House's nominees for Defense and CIA, the administration needed to nominate someone who would likely get confirmed relatively easily. Lew has already been confirmed twice in this administration when he was nominated for deputy secretary of State for management and resources and OMB director, and twice in the Clinton administration when he was selected for OMB's deputy director and then director. That means that he's already done the paperwork numerous times and has been investigated thoroughly.
That's not to say the GOP won't make Lew's confirmation hearings into a spectacle; after all, it's not every day you get to interrogate the president's chief of staff. But in spite of the entirely predictable Senate GOP grumbling about Lew, he's very likely to be confirmed easily. I expect him to get 80-85 votes.
4. Treasury secretary is one of the two cabinet positions -- attorney general is the other -- that every White House wants someone it can trust. Jack has repeatedly proven himself to be totally loyal to the president and, along with his tax and mandatory program expertise, that alone made him a likely candidate.
5. The White House needs a Treasury secretary that will follow its lead. Most of the other names that were mentioned -- former FDIC chairwoman
Erskine Bowles and Sheila Bair and Erskine Bowles, for example -- would have been far too independent.