Why Jack Lew Scares Republicans

Obama's nominee for Treasury Secretary has a passionate, progressive core underneath a nerdy exterior.

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

President Obama, left, speaks to the media after nominating Jack Lew to be Treasury Secretary, at the White House in Washington on Jan. 10, 2013.

When push came to shove in the last-minute negotiations between the White House and Republicans to avoid defaulting on U.S. debt in late July 2011, Jack Lew finally lost his cool. “You don’t have to explain this to him, Gene! No! No! No!” Lew shouted at Obama staffer Gene Sperling, who was in the Senate office of a GOP staffer on the Hill and had Lew on speakerphone. The eruption was so surprising, and so emotional, that the Republican staffer hung up on Lew, according to Bob Woodward’s account in The Price of Politics.

The outburst says something important about Lew, whom President Obama has tapped to replace Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury. Wonky, professional and grounded in decades of staff work in the obscure world of Washington budget politics, Lew has a reputation that is decidedly undramatic. Even partisan Republicans have shown respect for Lew’s grasp of the nation’s finances. “No one was more prepared and more in tune with the numbers than Jack Lew,” House majority leader Eric Cantor told Politico in June 2011.

Democrats have turned to Lew for that experience, and the results have been effective, if rarely pyrotechnic. Bill Clinton made him chief of the Office of Management and Budget in the 1990s, and Hillary Clinton tapped him to master the State Department’s unruly budget before Obama brought him over to the White House for his second stint in charge of the OMB. Ultimately, Obama made him chief of staff last year.

Beneath his nerdy exterior, Lew is a passionate progressive on the issue of wealth disparity and programs for the poor. In the original Gramm-Rudman-Hollings “sequestration” talks in the mid-1980s, Lew negotiated the exemptions from automatic budget cuts for Medicaid and other low-income programs. In the 1990s, he again defended Medicaid from the budget ax as President Clinton tacked to the center. And his speakerphone outburst in 2011 was in response to the Republican staffer’s suggestion that Medicaid cuts be added to the revivified sequestration process to avoid debt default.

This evident passion for what he sees as the moral dimensions in fiscal and economic policy combined with his expertise in the numbers makes him a formidable opponent as Washington heads into more tough negotiations over the budget. And it explains why Republicans are getting ready for an ugly confirmation fight. Alabama GOP Senator Jeff Sessions wrote a draft statement opposing Lew’s appointment that he will release after Obama formally nominates him that says, “Jack Lew must never be secretary of the Treasury,” according to The Hill’s Alex Bolton.

But Lew is clearly who Obama wants. After the outburst in 2011, Lew went to the Oval Office to brief the President on the confrontation he’d just had with the GOP staffer, Rohit Kumar. Reports Woodward:

Mr. President, I just absolutely blew the idea of Medicaid in the sequester out of the water, he said, and provided the details of his explosion, exactly what he had said.

It was the right thing to do, the president said.

Lew and Kumar soon resumed their conversation. Lew would not give on Medicaid, and Kumar finally dropped the idea.

48 comments
BillWright
BillWright

Lew's "moral dimension" regarding economic policy is misplaced, and nothing but an excuse for Socialism.  There is nothing immoral about an income disparity.   Some people will always have more than others, and that fact is not immoral.  But there is something very immoral about theft.  Just because people can form a majority, and use their numbers to gang up and steal from a minority of "the rich" does not make their action somehow moral.  It is still theft.  And all socialism -- even the light form of wealth redistribution that our government practices -- turns us all into slaves of the masses.  And slavery is always immoral.

elcidharth
elcidharth

Jack Lew scares me too and I am not a Republican. As I recall, Jack Lew received $944,578 as a bonus from the 'Citigroup.'

"The money was paid to Jacob Lew in January 2009, about two weeks before he joined the State Department as deputy secretary of state, according to a newly filed ethics form. The payout came on top of the already hefty $1.1 million Citigroup compensation package for 2008 that he reported last year. ....Formerly a chief operating officer at Citi Alternative Investments, a unit of Citigroup, Mr. Lew disclosed in an ethics filing that the money was “discretionary cash compensation” from 2008 that he received on Jan. 15, 2009."
Source: @washtimes

...and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

Jeff Sessions wants to filibuster this guy. That's all I need to know that he's a decent, smart, competent human being. You know, the opposite of Jeff Sessions.

jmac
jmac

Why Lew scares Democrats:  Having helped Clinton to deregulate - he doesn't think deregulation  was the cause of our economic breakdown that almost lead to another Great Depression.    NY Times article:   "The question is relevant because major regulations under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law remain to be put into effect in Mr. Obama's second term. "   

Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a Washington nonprofit:  "he appears to share a Wall Street mentality, particularly when it comes to financial reform."    

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

Everything scares today's GOTP. Watch out, it's Thursday!!!

Sue_N
Sue_N

The GOPers fear Lew because anyone who understands both math and morality is a danger to them. Budgets are inherently moral documents, with real effect on real lives, and the party of "Screw the Poor" can't stand anyone who knows that.

So, yeah, let's have this fight. Let's force Sessions and his fellow baggers to make public their hatred of the majority of Americans once again. Show them for what they truly are.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

But beneath the nerdy exterior, Lew is a passionate progressive on the issue of wealth disparity and programs for the poor....This evident passion for what he sees as the moral dimensions in fiscal and economic policy combined with his expertise in the numbers makes him a formidable opponent as Washington heads into more tough negotiations over the budget and explains why Republicans are getting ready for an ugly confirmation fight.

I believed with snark that the reason why Lew might "scare Republicans" was because he's not another Goldman Sachs executive, and here I find it's because he has a moral compass. I don't know if I should be more amused by that or concerned about how we're at a point that we can openly say that about Republicans and not bat an eyelash.

TyPollard
TyPollard

What scares conservatives the most is the idea that progressive policies actually WORK for the vast majority of Americans and don't damage those with wealth's  ability to continue to be set for generations. 

Very scary. 

MrObvious
MrObvious

Note that righties shit their pants over everything and anything. But I can't find anything bad about a guy righties have a legitimate reason to be 'scurred' of.

Bring him on.

fitty_three
fitty_three

OT, but:

WHY IN PLUPERFECT HELL is Sallie Mae using offshore call centers.

Outsourcing!!!!!!!!!

fitty_three
fitty_three

Who the hell cares?

Last time I checked "conservatives" think the sky is falling on a daily basis!

sacredh
sacredh

"This evident passion for what he sees as the moral dimensions in fiscal and economic policy combined with his expertise in the numbers makes him a formidable opponent as Washington heads into more tough negotiations over the budget and explains why Republicans are getting ready for an ugly confirmation fight."

.

And that's a good reason why Obama needs to go to the mat for this guy. Numbers count, but the numbers have people behind them.

normfarris4
normfarris4

@BillWright  

Unfortunately, your 19th century view of income disparity is entirely inappropriate for the 21st century. Your "natural law' sense of income disparity is first cousin to the Social Darwinism that even Darwin disparaged and was associated with the worse and most exploitative excesses of the 1800's. The idea that any responsible action to provide opportunities to Americans, especially those without the resources to  take advantage of our society is deeply unfair and exploitative. It also reveals a willful lack of understanding about economictrends in global society and basic moral responsibilities.


You are probably did not vote for the Democrats in 2012 and are deeply disturbed at the specter of millions of people whose life struggles you either never thought of or have been encourage to believe are somehow suspect are moving to gain their share as citizens.  And here is the thing, these voters grabbed their share and only that. If you are conservative and white it only looks like the barbarians are storming the castle.  Instead they are only moving to make sure that they have the same access to the country's resources that many conservative white males have enjoyed without question. This isn't reparations or re-distribution, it's letting these groups get access to what was long withheld from them. In November 2012, you learned a new word: SHARING

fitty_three
fitty_three

@BillWright  

How about raped?  You forgot rape. And pillaged?

How can you have a true atrocity committed when there's no raping and pillaging and stuff.

And guillotines!  Gotta have some of those, too!

EdwardMichaelStoddard
EdwardMichaelStoddard

@elcidharth Let's let fear rule the day!  You should be a Republican - they believe in fear big time.  They use it as leverage to get their flock to fall for all sorts of crap.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@PerryWhite1 I just hope Harry Reid gets his ducks in a row and comes up with a rule that makes Sessions actually have to filibuster instead of just utter the word.

EdwardMichaelStoddard
EdwardMichaelStoddard

@Ohiolib If Chicken Little was real he certainly would be a Republican Tea Party member.  Let's all be afraid! [sarcasm]

jmjeeves
jmjeeves

Since when is the government the keeper of morality and care? Most of us believe churches and society should care for those in need. When forced under compulsion/taxation to finance the morality of a government - freedom is lost.

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

@TyPollard Oh but it does damage them TY !  Guess whose going to be their neighbor and invite them to dinner?!  There's where the reality of years of oppression will have to be reconciled with humanness.  That's a hurt they will never tolerate.    And Moreover it may loose the bonds of financial bondage which has sublimely replaced the chains and whips.   Bless you TY for your insight regardless of my contradiction.  You are also right.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@TyPollard They've spent 30 years denying reality and creating their own alternate universe. Now reality and the universe are fighting back. It's the smack down from hell, and I'm stocking up on popcorn.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@MrObvious GOP = Whiny-assed titty babies.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@MrObvious 

That explains their sour crankiness...they are always sitting in poo undies.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@sacredh Budgets are moral documents. That cannot be said enough. We need people who understand this.

EdwardMichaelStoddard
EdwardMichaelStoddard

@jmjeeves Oh, you poor soul.  Without morality you have NO freedom.  It is the obligation of our government to be moral, to treat people fairly and equally.  Perhaps you would prefer Nazi Germany's government - they weren't moral or ethical.  Oh, and not everyone goes to church or even believes in their organized religious beliefs.  And the number that don't is increasing from year to year.  So, when you speak about government and it's duties, please leave religion out of it.    

Sue_N
Sue_N

@jmjeeves Who do you think "society" is if not we the people who pay taxes? Do you mean corporations like Goldman-Sachs, which at any time can cut charitable giving to the bone just because profits slip a bit? Yeah, let's trust them to care for the poor, shall we?

As for churches, good luck with that. Back in April, one international aid agency estimated that each church in America would have to come up with an additional $50,000 a year for ten years just to replace the $133 billion cut from nutrition programs by the Ryan budget approved by the House. Does your church have an extra $50K lying around?

And the U.S. Catholic bishops, whose various parishes and charity organizations do feed an awful lot of people, say it is indeed part of the government's responsibility to take care of its people (PDF).

Budgets are moral documents because they show where the concern and conscience of a nation lie. Where a nation chooses to spend its money reveals its priorities. As it says in Scripture, "Where your treasure lies, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21)

Robbert5
Robbert5

@jmjeeves Since when is government not part of society?  Many of us also believe that churches are not the keepers of morality.  Far from it and as an atheist I most certainly do not want to depend on a church for care.  

 I like the option where providing care is not done on a whim but is a duty for society as a whole.  Donating to charity only to make oneself feel better about themselves and get a tax write-off also does not constitute compassion, quite the contrary.  

So whatever your misguided perceptions are on churches and morality, they are not aligned and definitely not one and the same.

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

@jmjeeves And what is government but the legal and financial head of society? 

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@jmjeeves 

If Churches and Charities had the capacity, funding or logistical capabilities to take care of everyone that would be wonderful - but they don't.

sacredh
sacredh

What's really going to be fun is if we get the Supreme Court because of them.

sacredh
sacredh

Sue_N, I like your style. No beating around the bush.

sacredh
sacredh

fitty, I want them to run screaming into the night drooling, waving their arms and seeing monsters lurking in every shadow. Like they do now for any and every reason.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@jmjeeves First off, Obama doesn't want 90 percent of your income. Hyperbole and paranoia make for lousy arguments.

Second, Christians may not donate just to receive a tax write off (though I'd bet a number of Christians do), but they don't donate nearly enough to offset what the government spends on care of the poor. Here in my diocese, our Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul groups are constantly strapped for money. Last year, our bishop had to cut the portion of the diocesan budget dedicated to Catholic Charities because – heavens! – the good Christian folk in the area weren't giving enough to support it.

The hard truth is that in tough economic times, people give less to charities, even as the numbers of people relying on those charities increase. Just go ask any volunteer in a soup kitchen or food pantry.

lurch
lurch

@Robbert5 @jmjeeves  

People like to judge those "poors" to make sure they are 'worthy' of their charity.

Got to be the right kinda people, don't cha know.

jmjeeves
jmjeeves

I'll disregard your "misguided perceptions" comment. As for giving and care - Christians do not donate to charity to make themselves feel better about themselves and receive a tax write off. Please understand (if you choose not to believe - at least learn it before judging) the Christian Faith - atleast the reformed Christian faith - and understand that giving to a church and/or society is to glorify God and to loose the binds of materialism by demonstrating full trust in the Lord for provision. Matthew 5 tells us to do it in secret before the Lord and Acts 2 tells us to live in harmony with one another and share all resources we have within the church. Scripture also tells me to give to Caesar what is Caesars - so alas - if Obama wants 90% of my income - he can have it - I'll trust in my Lord.

jmjeeves
jmjeeves

Not all aspects of society. That's where we differ in opinion, probably.

jmjeeves
jmjeeves

I respect that. I truly don't have the answers at this point as well. Simply commenting that claiming the role of the federal budget is to finance the morality of our leaders is simply not the case.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@jmjeeves 

I see a problem yes, but that's no reason to throw your hands up in the air and walk away.  The US Government plays a key role in our economy; enacting harsh cuts to its spending too quickly will have nasty ripples.

jmjeeves
jmjeeves

We're trillions of dollars in debt with no resolution. You see capacity?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@jmjeeves 

Does it appear the government has the capacity to do these things?  Yes, it does.  Does it sometimes fall short?  Of course, but that's no reason to throw out the kitchen with the sink.

jmjeeves
jmjeeves

Does it appear the government does? Whose moral compass is the correct one? Isn't the concept of a moral compass relative to who the individual is? How do public dollars go towards the morality legislated by select individuals? This is the classic argument against tax dollars going to planned parenthood. I am not here to argue which side is right - but let's think through this concept of legislating morality through the government and our spending.

sacredh
sacredh

Gotta go. Something just popped up. ;  )

sacredh
sacredh

Make her a midget with a leather fetish too and I'll light a candle.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@sacredh God, I hope so. I want a gay black female Muslim justice just to see the right collectively explode.

sacredh
sacredh

You know I will fitty. Even a state of the art sewage treatment plant can't stir shit the way I do.