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The nominee also pledged fealty to the long-standing U.S. policy view that a strong dollar is in the nation’s interest and repeated the administration’s position that China’s currency remains undervalued, signaling an intent to keep pressing Beijing to let market forces more freely determine its value.
“We work through the international bodies, the G7, the G20, to advance the view that it’s not just the United States, but the organized nations of the world that insist on having currency policies which are market-determined,” he said.
Lew lacks the international stature of his predecessor, Timothy Geithner, who had met regulators from around the world as president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and was a senior financial diplomat in a prior stint at the U.S. Treasury.
But Lew said he met plenty of foreign dignitaries while serving as a deputy secretary of state under Hillary Clinton, where his main responsibility was managing the State Department’s resources. He also met with top leaders while at the White House as chief of staff, he told lawmakers.
Lew’s real passion is for budgets. He worked as the White House budget chief twice, first under President Bill Clinton.
Analysts said the choice of Lew as the administration’s top economic official signals the importance Obama places on ongoing battles in Washington over the government’s budget.
Senator Max Baucus, the chair of the Finance Committee, said he expects to hold a vote on Lew’s nomination after Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. Lew would then have to be confirmed by the full Senate.
That would come as the White House and Congress near a March 1 deadline to deal with $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that Lew said would impose “self-inflicted wounds” to the U.S. economic recovery.
At the end of the hearing, Baucus and others repeatedly questioned if Lew had sufficient gravitas to be the chief U.S. economic spokesman.
“On the things I believe, I’ve never withheld my judgment,” Lew said. “But the thing I would say that’s different about Treasury is it is a job that requires you to transcend politics … I understand that.”