Lew countered he was in the private sector at the time and was simply accepting the compensation that was standard in the industry.
Grassley also hit Lew for an investment he held from 2007 to 2010 in a venture capital fund based at a site in the Cayman Islands. Obama repeatedly criticized GOP nominee Mitt Romney for his offshore investments during the 2012 campaign.
“There’s a certain hypocrisy in what the president says about other taxpayers and, then, your appointment,” Grassley said.
Lew told the committee he was not aware at the outset that the investment, which he made as a Citi employee, was located in the Cayman Islands. He also said he always paid taxes on it and divested in 2010 when he became Obama’s budget director.
Seizing on an attack previously made by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, rebuked Lew and the administration for not sending 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 voluntarily provided the mandated report on Medicare.
Lew told Cornyn that the administration had already made the decision not to submit the report before he became budget director.
Referring to the recent legislation that threatened to delay lawmakers’ salaries absent adoption of a budget, Cornyn suggested it might be appropriate to withhold OMB pay until it complied with the Medicare law.
Several Democrats pressed Lew, who lacks deep background in financial policy, if he was prepared to carry out implementation of the Dodd-Frank law. He promised to make his leadership of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which comes with the position of Treasury secretary, an “extraordinarily high priority of mine.”
Others urged Lew to go beyond the law. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., asked Lew if he would support re-establishing the 1930s-era Glass-Steagall Act, which split commercial and investment banks and was repealed under President Bill Clinton.
Lew called the measure “something of an anachronism” but later signaled a willingness to consider new rules.
“I think that the question of is there a need for any further consideration of financial regulation is one that just comes in sequence after implementing Dodd-Frank,” Lew said. “And I come to the issue open-minded, knowing that we can’t let what happened leading up to 2008 happen again.”
That reflected an approach that Lew took across a broad range of economic policy questions from taxation to regulatory policy, issues Lew said he looked forward to working on with the committee.
Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania urged Lew to reverse years of U.S. policy and designate China a formal currency manipulator. Lew, however, stuck to the script, which is that the administration was making progress through diplomatic pressure.
“I would put a lot of energy behind developing a relationship where I could push back on practices in China that we think are unfair,” Lew said. “We have done that as an administration. We will continue to do that.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.