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Treasury Is Lightning Rod for China, Banks and Debt

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Lew seems to have some supporters in the Senate, should he be nominated for Treasury secretary.

Whomever President Barack Obama taps to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is likely to face tough questioning from senators in both parties on the $16 trillion debt, Chinese currency issues and bank regulations, to name just a few topics.

But the good news for Obama is that the man rumored to be his top pick — current White House Chief of Staff Jacob J. Lew — is likely to be easily confirmed, regardless.

Still, the high-profile job will come amid a backdrop of success or failure in averting the fiscal cliff, a raging dispute over the future of the debt ceiling and sharply divided views between the parties and even within the parties about how to regulate Wall Street and the biggest banks.

Lew’s résumé is among the most bulletproof in town — he’s been a budget director for multiple presidents and an aide to former Speaker Tip O’Neill and has been confirmed before by the Senate. His past experience at Citigroup would be both a plus and a minus — showing he has Wall Street experience while also bringing up questions about the bailed-out bank and his role there.

“I think they’ll beat him up in the hearings, and he’ll sail through on the floor,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide predicted.

Several Republican senators told CQ Roll Call they don’t expect a big fight — barring some unexpected disclosure.

“That would be a logical choice for the president to make,” Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind, said. “He brings credentials and experience with him that would be valuable, but in the end this really is the president’s choice.”

Still, he noted, “there’s always an X factor that may occur ... but Jack’s been through the process.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., predicted an easier time more broadly, suggesting Lew would be a good pick. “My view is the president has greater capacity to get second term appointments,” he said.

However, he joked of a treasury nominee, “I want to hear that they disagree with the president on the fundamentals of the economy. That’s not likely to happen.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she doesn’t know Lew well enough to have a position on confirmation. “From what little I do know, he is well-regarded,” she said.

That’s not to say that someone like Lew wouldn’t have to face questions.

“What are we going to do about our $16 trillion debt?” Collins said would be the first on her list.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, wouldn’t comment on a Lew nomination in particular, but said he’ll press the next nominee on providing greater openness to Congressional oversight.

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