Jack Lew(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
President Obama said Thursday that Treasury Secretary-designate
Jack Lew will maintain the task of rebuilding the economy more than four
years after the near collapse of 2008.
"A lot of work remains,
especially to build a strong middle class," Obama said in unveiling the
Lew nomination during a White House ceremony.
Lew, the current
White House Chief and former budget director for Obama, said in a brief
statement he looks forward to "the challenges ahead."
formally nominated Lew to replace Timothy Geithner, whom the president
said would go down in history as "one of our finest secretaries of the
Geithner returned the praise, saying Obama inherited
"the worst crisis in generations" when he took office in 2009, and
"saved the global economy."
The White House ceremony also featured
jokes about Lew's remarkably poor penmanship -- something of an issue
because the Treasury Secretary's signature appears on all U.S. currency.
Obama said Lew promised to improve his legibility "in order not to debase our currency."
Treasury Secretary and the rest of Obama's economic team face three big
budget battles in next three months with congressional Republicans:
The parties are still trying to negotiate a debt reduction deal to head
off a series of automatic budget cuts set to take effect in March. The
so-called "sequester" -- including popular defense and domestic programs
-- was delayed two months as part of the fiscal cliff agreement on New
Year's Day. That agreement dealt with taxes.
-- The government's
authority to borrow money to pay its bills -- the "debt ceiling" -- is
expected to expire in two months or so. Some Republicans said they won't
support an increase in the debt ceiling without corresponding budget
-- The continuing resolution to fund the government expires
May 27. The parties must negotiate an extension or face the prospect of
another government shutdown.
While Lew is considered a good
bet for confirmation, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top
Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said he would try to block
the nomination. Sessions cited Lew's congressional testimony in 2011
that Obama's plans would not add to a federal debt that now tops $16
"His testimony before the Senate Budget Committee
less than two years ago was so outrageous and false that it alone
disqualifies," Sessions said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking
Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants Lew to
"outline the Administration's plans on tackling our unsustainable debt,
what areas of federal spending should be cut, and what kind of reforms
-- from our tax code to our entitlement programs -- are needed to get
our fiscal house in order."
The Lew nomination is the latest move in a Cabinet shuffle that precedes the start of Obama's second term on Jan. 20.
Others who are departing the Obama administration: Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Labor
Secretary Hilda Solis and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.,
to replace Clinton at State, and former senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to
replace Panetta at the Pentagon. The president has also tapped
counter-terrorism aide John Brennan for CIA director to replace David
Petraeus, who resigned in November over an extramarital affair.
Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will
remain at their posts, officials said.
Obama has not yet made new selections for the Labor Department and the EPA.
And, with the promotion of Lew, he will need a new chief of staff as well.