Washington — Jack Lew, President Barack Obama’s pick to be U.S. treasury secretary, is expected to come under fire for the administration’s budget policies and a nearly $1 million bonus he received from bailed-out bank Citigroup when he testifies on Wednesday before a Senate panel vetting him for the job.
The hearing will briefly become ground zero in the pitched political battle over the federal budget, with Republicans set to attack over what they contend is Lew’s devil-may-care attitude to reducing the U.S. budget deficit.
Republicans have signaled that Lew, Obama’s former chief of staff and budget director, will be critiqued for his role in preparing proposals that piled on deficits and probed on the president’s plans to put government-run healthcare and retirement programs on sounder footing.
“He’ll be used as a political ping-pong ball,” said Ted Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who served briefly as an adviser to Obama’s former treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. Geithner left the administration in January.
Lew, who would be the first Orthodox Jew to hold the post, was the administration’s point person during budget talks in 2011 that ended with a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, cap discretionary spending and put in place $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts over 10 years.
During those negotiations, his hard-line position in defense of government-run benefit programs angered Republicans.
Most Republicans, however, have said they will reserve judgment on Lew until after Wednesday’s hearing, and he is widely expected to win the Senate’s needed backing even if he ends up facing substantial opposition.
Republican lawmakers are expected to push Lew on his earlier resistance to proposed changes to the Medicare healthcare and Social Security retirement programs, such as using an slower growing inflation index to calculate retirement benefits.