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Barring an unexpected revelation or major slipup, Jacob J. Lew almost certainly will secure a relatively smooth path to approval as Treasury secretary after a confirmation hearing Wednesday that lawmakers will use as a forum to score political points against Obama administration fiscal policies.
Republican senators have raised questions about Lew, currently the White House chief of staff, on issues ranging from his honesty in representing administration budgets to Congress to his background in finance and his personal investments. But Lew so far hasn’t drawn the sharp criticism from the GOP that has greeted several other of President Barack Obama’s nominees on Capitol Hill.
For Democrats, the confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee offers an opportunity to highlight policies they’ve supported in recent years to boost the economy after the 2008-2009 recession as questions arise about the recovery actions pushed by departing Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, including the bailouts that sent federal funds to the banking industry.
As outgoing White House chief of staff and former budget director under Obama, Lew played a key role in negotiating budget deals with Congress. In those positions, he made few friends among GOP lawmakers and aides who grew frustrated with his aggressive style and his commitment to protecting social safety net programs.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has said he will oppose Lew’s nomination, but it’s unclear so far how much weight Sessions’ opposition will carry. Sessions charges that Lew misled him and other senators in testimony about the president’s budget and its effect on the national debt.
Sessions has also hit Lew for the administration’s decision not to send Congress a Medicare spending control plan as required by the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit law (PL 108-173). Both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations determined Congress could not mandate such a proposal, although the Bush administration did provide the mandated report on Medicare.
Although Sessions is not a member of the Finance panel, GOP senators are likely to take up a similar line of questioning, while accusing Lew and the administration of not doing enough to curb annual budget deficits.
As he prepares to take over as the government’s top financial policy official, Lew’s lack of financial experience is also expected to come under scrutiny. Lew worked at Citigroup from 2006 to 2009, but his was largely an administrative role and he lacks the deep connections to Wall Street enjoyed by recent secretaries such as Geithner and Henry M. Paulson Jr.