WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Jack Lew as Treasury secretary on Wednesday, giving him broad responsibilities over the U.S. economy just as the country faces potentially severe budget cuts, a still-tepid recovery and an overhaul of financial regulations that remains incomplete.
After being grilled by Republican lawmakers in recent weeks over his work and pay at bailout recipient Citigroup, Lew was given the Senate’s green light in a 71-26 vote.
Sens. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., voted in favor of Lew’s confirmation.
Lew follows Timothy Geithner, whose tenure drew controversy after the sweeping measures taken by the U.S. government to bring the country’s economy back from the brink. The worst days of the financial crisis have passed, but Lew still has a tricky job ahead of him.
As President Obama’s current chief of staff and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lew is no stranger to the ongoing fiscal debate in Washington.
But he will also have to delve into the world of banking; a large part of his role will involve taking steps meant to avoid a repeat of the financial crisis.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. said Lew had cleared one of the most thorough reviews ever done by the Senate Finance Committee of a Treasury nominee. Lew met with 41 senators, according to Baucus.
But some Republicans grumbled that Lew had not answered questions thoroughly enough.
There remain several serious concerns about his background, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Unfortunately many of these concerns will go unaddressed.
Hatch raised concerns about Lew’s time at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008, when he worked as chief operating officer of two divisions at the bank, global wealth management and alternative investments. Citigroup’s finances were in such disarray by 2008 that it required one of the biggest packages of government assistance of any bank on Wall Street.
Lew has said he only took care of backroom operations at Citigroup and did not design or offer opinions about financial products.
He was paid at least $1.1 million for his work at the bank, according to financial disclosures.
Hatch ultimately voted for Lew, despite his reservations.
Republicans have also raised concerns about a section in Lew’s Citigroup contract that allowed him to keep his bonus compensation if he left the bank for a high-level position in government.
Lew said in response to the Senate Finance Committee’s questions that he sought this provision, given the likelihood that he would return to public service after working at Citigroup.
What we have seen so far is that Mr. Lew was very good at getting paid by taxpayer-supported institutions, said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who voted against Lew, in a statement this week.
One of Lew’s first acts will be puting his signature on the United States’ currency. His unique handwriting – which makes his signature look more like a series of loops rather than letters – has been widely joked about.
Baucus said Wednesday that Lew has already promised the president that he will work to make at least one letter legible.