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Published: Monday, 1/14/2013


Banking on Lew

President Obama’s nomination of Jacob Lew as treasury secretary completes his proposed roster of top Cabinet officers — state, defense, and treasury — for his second term.

Mr. Lew, the President’s chief of staff, is certainly qualified for the treasury post. He will be required to carry the ball for the White House in some demanding upcoming negotiations, within the administration and with the Congress.

Mr. Lew was director of the Office of Management and Budget for Mr. Obama and for President Bill Clinton. Mr. Lew will have to start by dancing between Republicans’ pledge to make raising the debt limit an issue and Mr. Obama’s refusal to wrangle with them about it again.

Another problem that Mr. Lew will face is the looming automatic reduction in government spending, the sequestration, if the White House and Congress cannot agree by March to resolve that issue. Republicans have put themselves in the curious position of wanting to get rid of the budget deficit and stall the growth of the national debt but without cutting defense spending. Mr. Lew will have the privilege of bargaining with them as the representative of the White House. He is said to be a subtle but tough negotiator.

Critics of Mr. Lew will focus on two points, apart from the issues. The first is that he worked for Citigroup. Big Wall Street banks, especially those bailed out as Citigroup was with $45 billion in government money, are not at the top of the list of institutions that recession-struck Americans like or respect.

The other criticism, directed more at Mr. Obama than at Mr. Lew, is that the President has so far put up for the top posts in his second administration a cast of white, male nominees — John Kerry for secretary of state, Chuck Hagel for defense, and now Mr. Lew.

None of these complaints should serve as a barrier to Senate confirmation of Mr. Lew, given his qualifications.

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