Senate Republicans on Wednesday offered encouraging words about President Barack Obama’s Treasury nominee, Jack Lew, but withheld support, saying the former White House budget director’s qualifications and views must still be scrutinized.
Lew met with four Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, which is in charge of vetting his nomination.
The lawmakers said they discussed the need to find common ground on government spending and revenues, and the imperative of reforming big government programs dear to Democrats: Social Security and Medicare.
Lew “acknowledged what I know, that Social Security is the ‘easier’ solution, … but that health care is a huge problem and a huge challenge,” Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia told reporters after meeting with Lew.
As Obama’s chief of staff, Lew has been deeply involved with the fiscal battles that have consumed Congress and the White House over the past two years.
If confirmed by the Senate, Lew will assume the role of Treasury secretary as another set of fiscal deadlines loom, including about $100 billion in spending cuts due to take effect in March.
But at least one major issue would likely be off his plate for a brief time: a potential debt default by the U.S. government. House of Representative Republicans passed a bill on Wednesday to extend the government’s borrowing authority until mid-May.
Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman separately said their conversations with Lew were constructive. Texas Senator John Cornyn said he appreciated Lew’s willingness to listen to his concerns about the country’s growing debt.
Senators did not address Lew’s lack of experience in international economics and financial markets.
“The devil’s in the details, and there’s a lot more of Mr. Lew’s record and qualifications that need to be fully examined,” Hatch said in an emailed statement after his meeting.
Committee members are waiting for Lew’s tax returns and other paperwork in order to start the full vetting process. No date has yet been set for a hearing on the nomination.