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Treasury to test Lew's mettle as budget guru

US President Barack Obama walks with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew (R) on March 2, 2012
US President Barack Obama walks with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew (R) on March 2, 2012. Lew's two previous stints as White House budget director and reputation as a deal-maker will be tested if, as expected, President Barack Obama picks him as his

Jack Lew's two previous stints as White House budget director and reputation as a solid deal-maker will be tested if President Barack Obama picks him as his next Treasury secretary, as expected.

With Republicans gearing up for a showdown with the White House over the country's massive debt, Lew is set to replace the pugnacious Timothy Geithner, who steered the Obama administration through the financial crisis.

Obama was expected to name Lew as early as Thursday.

Currently White House chief-of-staff, Lew, 57, is steeped in treacherous Washington politics.

Sources familiar with the selection process said Obama favored him for his profound knowledge of domestic and international economics.

In addition, he has already been deeply involved in budget fights between the White House and Congressional Republicans, as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and, since last year, Obama's chief of staff.

A Harvard graduate, Lew has spent his entire professional life in the US capital since 1979, except for an eight-year span during the Republican presidency of George W. Bush.

He started out as a policy adviser to the Democratic speaker of the US House of Representatives, Thomas "Tip" O'Neill. During that period, Lew also earned a law degree from Georgetown University.

He joined a large Washington law firm when O'Neill retired in 1987 and in 1993 was recruited into the White House of Democratic president Bill Clinton, where he was eventually posted to the OMB.

In 1998 he was named director of the OMB, where he helped to manage tough negotiations with a hostile Republican Congress and achieved four consecutive years of budget surpluses, the first since 1960.

When Bush became president in 2001, Lew moved back to his native New York City, where he joined the management team of New York University.

In 2007-2008 he moved to Citigroup, where he notably headed a speculative fund and reaped an annual salary that topped $1 million.

Before returning to the OMB in 2010, he served as deputy secretary for management and resources under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Lew, an Orthodox Jew, grew up in New York City and is a married father of two adult children.

Tall, with a thatch of black hair just starting to gray and wire-rimmed glasses, he is accessible and an attentive listener but rarely strays from his serious demeanor, according to several people who have worked with him.

He has always been low-key in public. According to a recent profile of him in The New York Times, he brings his own lunch to work -- a cheese sandwich and an apple -- and eats at his desk.

Before catching the political bug and ending up in government, Lew sported long hair and ripped jeans and wanted to crusade against world injustice as a journalist, the Washington Post recalled.

During his confirmation hearing for the State Department post in January 2009, the late senator Ted Kennedy heaped praise on Lew.

"I found him always to be thoughtful, open and innovative in assessing new ways for improving the lives of Americans," Kennedy said.

"Whether the issue was new investment in education, aid to sub-Saharan Africa or assistance to distressed fishermen in Massachusetts, Jack's door was always open."

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