Here's Obama's pick for one of DC's worst jobs

Jack Lew will lead the Obama administration's talks with Congress over spending. It's a tough road, even for this veteran technocrat.

By Charley Blaine Jan 10, 2013 5:23PM
© Larry Downing/Getty ImagesPresident Obama has nominated Jack Lew, his chief of staff and former budget director, to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary. The nomination, made Thursday, is a clear signal that the worst of the financial crisis that nearly sank the U.S. economy in 2008 and 2009 is over.

What Lew is supposed to do is find ways to keep the federal government operating as Republicans in the House of Representatives threaten to shut the government down if they don't get their way on spending.

Lew is a veteran technocrat in Washington. He began his career as a top aide to the late Tip O'Neill. So, yes, he is a liberal. He later worked for Bill Clinton as budget director and was tapped for the job by Barack Obama.

Educated at Harvard and Georgetown Law School, Lew, 57, is fastidious and low-key. The Queens native eats lunch at his desk -- a cheese sandwich and an apple that he brings from home. A devout Orthodox Jew, he leaves the office before sundown on Friday to honor the sabbath.

He is also a tough power broker. And, as important, he knows all the budget numbers in detail and doesn't hesitate to use that knowledge if it's needed.

Geithner was made Treasury Secretary in part to soothe a Wall Street wary of a new Democratic administration. Geithner had been president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Geithner was skilled in dealing with central bankers and heads of state on international financial matters.

That experience is not in Lew's skill set, but he did work for Citigroup (C) for three years before joining the Obama administration. 

Lew is likely to be questioned closely by Senate Republicans in confirmation hearings. But Republicans have not signaled the kind of opposition they have put up to some of the president's other potential nominations, such as former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, the nominee to succeed Leon Panetta as Secretary Defense.

Geithner's tenure was marked by stormy relations with Republicans and Democrats. Both loathed him because he made stabilizing the financial system and the biggest banks a priority. Many believe Wall Street got a pass from Geithner because none of the biggest banks were allowed to fail.

On the other hand, since the 19 biggest financial institutions were subjected to so-called stress tests to see how vulnerable they would be to financial shocks, they've seen huge gains in stock prices.

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