Jack Lew, President Barack Obama’s pick to be U.S. treasury secretary, on Wednesday defused heated questions from lawmakers about his work at Citigroup and managed to find common ground with critics over the need for tax reform.
At a hearing on his nomination, Republicans blasted Lew with questions about his investment in a fund linked to the Cayman Islands and his time at Citigroup, especially a $940,000 bonus he received just before the bank got a taxpayer-funded bailout.
Lew, sounding calm and confident, told the Senate Finance Committee that his compensation at Citigroup was in line with others who worked in the financial industry.
His background at the bank aside, the hearing underscored differences between Democrats and Republicans on how best to rein in U.S. budget deficits but also highlighted a common desire to reform the tax code. Lew struck a conciliatory stance, repeatedly saying he looked forward to working with Congress on a bipartisan basis.
He said revamping the tax code would be “at the very top” of his priorities.
The questioning was largely respectful and free of drama. Even the top Republican on the committee, Orrin Hatch, one of Lew’s most persistent critics, had only nice things to say at the end of the 3-1/2-hour vetting.
“Frankly, I think you’ve done really well,” he told Lew.
The smooth performance further cemented Lew’s prospect of winning the Senate’s needed backing. While most Republicans have withheld judgment, Democrats control the Senate 53-45.
During the hearing, Hatch zeroed in on Lew’s work as an executive at Citigroup as a possible conflict of interest for a job that would have him overseeing financial markets.