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Jack Lew Secretary of Treasury: Could He Replace Tim Geithner

After four tumultuous years, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the sole remaining member of President Obama’s original economic team, is leaving his post in 2013. Previously, Geithner stated that he would leave after the debt ceiling issue is resolved. Given the polarization of Congress and slow confirmation process, there is an incredible risk that one of our nation’s most critical positions will be open for months. 

The number one task, and greatest challenge, for the next Treasury secretary will be bridging the ideological divide between two decidedly entrenched political parties. Several names have been floated leaving many curious about their qualifications to manage the nation’s balance sheet.  With all of the names that are generating buzz, Jack Lew, Kenneth Chenault, Sheila Bair, Jamie Dimon, and Erskine Bowles are the most thought provoking. But, what do their resume’s looks like?

I’ll begin the series with Obama’s current Chief of Staff, Jacob “Jack” Lew 

Jacob “Jack” Lew is believed to be the number one pick for many beltway insiders. Born in New York, and the son of a Polish immigrant, Lew attended Carlton College in Minnesota then went onto to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard with a B.A. degree. He received his law degree from Georgetown University. 

He’s a strong Democrat who started his political career as an aide to Rep. Joe Moakley (D - Mass.) from 1974 to 1975. He “grew up” while serving as policy advisor to then House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, and served as Assistant Director to the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. He was later promoted to Executive Director, where he worked on domestic and economic issues ranging from Social Security, Medicare, budget, tax, trade, appropriations, and energy. 

After leaving the beltway, Lew practiced law as partner at Van Ness, Feldman and Curtis concentrating in the energy sector. He founded of the Center for Middle East Research, and served as the Issues Director for the Democratic National Campaign in 1988. 

Lew then joined then President Clinton’s team and served as Special Assistant to the President where he was tasked with policy development, including drafting the AmeriCorps platform, and the ill-fated heath care reform legislation. 

From there, Lew joined the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the Executive Associate Director and Associate Director for Legislative Affairs before accepting the position of Deputy Director.  Lew’s responsibilities included the oversight of daily operations of the OMB, and he served as a negotiator for the administration on high visibility legislative actions like the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. 

In 1998, he was nominated, and confirmed, as the next Director of the OMB where he served as a senior member of the Clinton Administration’s economic team. He advised the President Clinton on domestic and international policies while representing the Administration during budget negotiations with Congress.

After leaving public life in 2001, Lew held various positions including the Executive Vice President for Operations for New York University and Clinical Professor of Public administration at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. He left the education sector after being named COO of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments Unit, a position he held for a little over two years before joining the Obama administration as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

While Deputy Secretary of State for Management and resources, Lew’s primary responsibilities focused on resource issues and management, not policy. During his tenure, Lew also served as a co-leader of the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review

In 2010, President Obama announced that Lew had been given the nod to replace outgoing OMB Director, Peter Orszag. In November, Lew was confirmed as the next Director of the Office of Management and Budget by unanimous consent. 

In January, 2012, President Obama announced that Lew would replace outgoing William Daley as the White House Chief of Staff, a revolving door position that Lew holds today.

Members on the farthest ends of the political spectrum of their parties have voiced concerns that Lew will either be too partisan or not partisan enough. Regardless, if he is nominated, this would leave Obama searching for yet another Chief of Staff. 

To Lew’s credit, as an aide to Tip O’Neill, he has experience navigating through the highly contentious waters of social security reform, extensive experience in budgeting, and understands the overwhelming consequences of a deficit rapidly spiraling upward. He also earned the respect of members of both parties, including House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor.  

Finally, Lew has been confirmed by the Senate in two key positions in less than four years with little to no controversy. 

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