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Obama lines up Jack Lew for Treasury

Jan 10 2013 07:56 AFP
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Washington - President Barack Obama was expected to name Washington veteran Jack Lew as his next Treasury chief as early as Thursday, stocking his team for the next tense budget showdown with Republicans.

Lew, the White House chief of staff, is steeped in often tricky US politics, and sources familiar with the selection process said Obama considered what they described as his deep knowledge of domestic and international economics.

Officials would not confirm that Lew would succeed Timothy Geithner or name the date when Obama will make it formal, but they did not rule out the idea that the announcement could come on Thursday.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney delivered a broad hint when he said that Lew had been for 25 years, "an integral part of some of the most important budgetary financial and fiscal agreements, bipartisan agreements in Washington."

Lew, 57, is a classic Washington insider, who would not need a cramming session to get up to speed on the complex budget, tax and economic rows consuming Washington - one reason why Obama may have leaned towards him.

There had been some reports that the president may choose a corporate CEO or a Wall Street luminary for the role, but such a pick could leave the neophyte Treasury secretary adrift on tricky political currents.

Lew has twice served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget - for Obama and former Democratic president Bill Clinton.

His nomination - which must be confirmed by the Senate - will come in a week in which Obama rounded out his second term national security team, notably picking former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as his new defense secretary.

Another member of Obama's economic team, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, made clear Wednesday that she would not be back for Obama's second term.

Obama praised the Hispanic former lawmaker as a "tireless champion for working families" and said she had been a critical member of his team in helping the economy recover from the worst recession since the 1930s.

Sources familiar with Lew's situation highlighted elements of his resume relevant to the tough situation he would inherit, with Obama and Republicans feuding over taxation and spending crisis coming to the boil.

They noted that under Clinton, Lew was part of the team which negotiated a deal with a Republican Congress to balance the US federal budget, which created a surplus, in contrast to today's $1 trillion-plus deficits.

As head of the Office of Management and Budget, Lew led negotiations to cut spending with Republicans earlier in Obama's first term and helped framed deficit cutting plans. He has also served as deputy secretary of state and worked in the past on Capitol Hill.

If confirmed by the Senate, Lew would take the helm as Obama is locked in a row with Republicans over his demands for a raising of the current $16 trillion borrowing limit, without which Washington could default on its debt.

He would also face other clashes with congressional Republicans on huge automatic fiscal cliff spending cuts put off during a New Year political crisis for two months but due to reach fruition again at the end of February.

Geithner made it known that he did not want to serve a second term at Treasury. He is expected to leave by month's end.

The Treasury secretary had previously delayed his departure to help Obama maintain the economic recovery and to play a major role in the successful effort to avert the fiscal cliff budgetary crisis.

Obama will be under pressure to replace Solis and other members of cabinet who are leaving with female candidates, following complaints that his selections so far have shown insufficient diversity.

Carney insisted however on Wednesday that women were key players at the top of the president's inner circle, after a front page photo in the New York Times ruffled the White House by showing Obama surrounded by male advisors.

"Women are well represented in the president's senior staff here. Two of the three deputies, deputy chiefs of staff, are women. The White House counsel is a woman. A woman runs Homeland Security for this country, Secretary (Janet) Napolitano."

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