Jack Lew testifies on Capitol Hill on February 15, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
How do we reconcile the contradictions that are inherent in Jack Lew? He's the Carleton College student whose faculty adviser was Professor Paul Wellstone and the Clinton aide who promoted trade agreements and budget policies that Senator Paul Wellstone opposed; the former aide to populist Massachusetts Congressmen Joe Moakley and Tip O’Neill who made at least $1.1. million a year as a managing director of Citigroup; and now, the man President Obama has nominated to replace Tim Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury.
A lot of Senate Republicans think they have figured Lew out. They don’t like him. Indeed, they dismiss the veteran Clinton administration and Obama administration aide who currently serves as White House Chief of Staff as “The Man Who Cannot Say Yes to Republicans.” Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a key Republican on budget issues, said nominating Lew for the Treasury post would be “a mistake.” Barry Johnson, House Speaker John Boehner’s former chief of staff, told Bob Woodward that the problem Republicans have with Lew is that the man who served as both Clinton and Obama’s Office of Management and Budget director was “always trying to protect the sacred cows of the left.”
There’s something to the GOP gripe: Back in 2008 and 2009, Lew fought for a big stimulus plan, and he’s got a track record of defending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that goes back to the 1980s.
Yet Lew is, as well, the steady defender of deregulation who headed Clinton’s OMB when the previous Democratic president organized the gutting of New Deal–era Glass-Steagall protections against banker adventurism. He hails from the same inner circle as Geithner and Lawrence Summers. And there was that Citigroup stint. And, while he suggests that Lew’s nomination is likely to be approved, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, says: “He will be confirmed without my vote. At a time when the middle class is collapsing and millions of workers are unemployed, I do not believe he is the right person at the right time to serve in this important position.”