President Obama drew from the Clinton well to replace outgoing White House budget manager Peter Orszag, tapping Jacob Lew to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). "If there was a Hall of Fame for budget directors, then Jack Lew surely would have earned a place," Obama said, noting that as OMB director during Bill Clinton's second term, Lew oversaw three budget surpluses. So, who is Lew, and can he do anything about our $1.3 trillion deficit? (Watch Obama's announcement)
What's Lew's story?
A native of New York, Lew, 54, is currently a deputy secretary of state — effectively chief operating officer of the State Department. He was President Bill Clinton's fourth and final budget director, from 1998 to 2001 — a period of unprecedented surpluses. Before joining State last year, Lew was a managing director at a Citigroup private equity and hedge fund. He's also been chief of operations at New York University and a top aide to House Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-MA) in the 1980s.
What does the OMB director do?
It's a Cabinet-level post responsible for preparing the federal budget and overseeing how it's administered throughout the White House and various federal agencies. The OMB director also helps set the president's spending priorities.
Why did Obama pick Lew?
The surprise choice was at least partly driven by Lew's past success banishing red ink. "At a time when so many families are tightening their belts, he's going to make sure the government continues to tighten its own," Obama said. Lew's also smart and "cares more about getting things done than getting credit for them" — both qualities that Obama values highly, says Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
Will he have trouble winning Senate confirmation?
Probably not. His stint at Citibank might provide some partisan fodder, but he was confirmed for the State Department quickly, and has the support of key Republicans. Lew's an "excellent pick," and "a talented guy" who "really knows numbers and the system," says Sen. Judd Gregg (NH), the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "I certainly will support him."
Will he be able to tame the deficit?
"If he does his job right," Gregg says, he'll at least start to dig us out of our "untenable, unsustainable" budget "ditch." But even raising the hope that America can, or should, balance the budget anytime soon is "the wrong policy message to send," says Salon's Andrew Leonard. "If the Clinton years should teach us anything, it's that's budget balancing is a job best accomplished when the economy is humming and unemployment is low. Those conditions do not currently prevail. Obama might as well have nominated Don Quixote for budget director." Any way you look at it, says Jillian Bandes at Townhall.com, "Lew is in the hotseat."
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