comments_image Comments

Treasury pick Lew gets nod from key Senate panel

The US Senate Finance Committee approved President Barack Obama's Treasury nominee Jack Lew, pictured February 13, 2013
The US Senate Finance Committee approved President Barack Obama's nominee Jack Lew, pictured February 13, 2013, to be the new Treasury secretary, replacing Timothy Geithner who stepped down last month.

The US Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted Tuesday to back Obama nominee Jack Lew as Treasury secretary despite qualms about his reputation as a doctrinaire Democrat and his ties to Wall Street.

Senators voted 19-5 in favor of Lew, with several Republicans joining with the majority Democrats, paving the way for a full Senate vote as early as Wednesday.

President Barack Obama nominated Lew, formerly his White House chief of staff, to replace Timothy Geithner, who stepped down last month after four years marked by the country's deepest economic crisis since the 1930s.

While Lew's confirmation was always likely, his reputation as a dogged defender of Democratic party stances in tough negotiations with White House opponents raised hackles among Republicans.

In addition, his ties to Wall Street -- and especially a $940,000 bonus payout he received from Citigroup after it was propped up by a $45 billion Treasury bailout -- and his holding of investment assets in an account in the Cayman Islands tax haven sparked questions even from Democratic supporters.

The Senate committee's ranking Republican Orrin Hatch ended up voting for him despite "serious reservations."

"I believe the president is owed a fair amount of deference in choosing people to work in his administration and, though I would have chosen a different person for this particular post, I intend to defer to President Obama with regard to the Lew nomination," Hatch said.

"I believe that Mr Lew has been less than forthcoming about his time at Citigroup" as well as New York University, where Lew was a highly paid executive vice president from 2001-2006, said Hatch.

"This is problematic and I plan to go into these concerns more fully when the nomination is debated on the (Senate) floor," Hatch added.

The committee confirmation vote for Lew was considerably more sedate than the heated debate during the Senate Armed Services Committee vote earlier this month for Chuck Hagel, whom the president nominated to head the Pentagon.

Lew, 57, is a longtime Democratic stalwart who worked under president Bill Clinton in the Office of Management and Budget after an earlier start as a congressional aid and as a private attorney.

In 2001 he moved to New York University, and then in 2006 was recruited by Citigroup, where for two years he was chief operating officer in the alternative investments unit.

The huge payout he received when he left the bank to join the Obama administration, a bonus reportedly stipulated by his contract, sparked questions that he is too close to the banks and would be too accepting of the practices that stoked the financial crisis.

As Treasury Secretary, Lew would have a major role in implementing new banking regulations aimed at avoiding the excesses of the pre-crash years.

Lew joined the State Department in the first year of the Obama administration in 2009, moved to head the OMB in July 1010, and then became White House chief of staff in January 2012.

The latter two positions placed him in the middle of the battles with Republicans over spending and the deficit, where he earned a reputation as uncompromising and less-than-diplomatic.

Lew's nomination to the Treasury also sparked joking worries over his cute but utterly undecipherable, doodle-like eight-loop signature, which will appear on all US banknotes.

Described as an "unraveled slinky" by one graphologist, the signature prompted Obama himself to urge Lew to change it so that it does not devalue the greenback.