(WASHINGTON) — Facing a brewing fight over the debt ceiling and spending cuts, President Obama on Thursday tapped his chief of staff Jack Lew to be the next Treasury Secretary, elevating a close confidante and trusted adviser to leading economic voice for the administration’s second term.
At a midday news conference, Obama praised Lew, 57, as a “low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras” and hailed his reputation as “a master of policy who can work with members of both parties and forge principled compromises.”
The nod to Lew’s political experience, as a former congressional staffer and Clinton administration budget director, highlights the political battles on the horizon over three new “fiscal cliffs” — the debt ceiling, looming automatic spending cuts, and a measure to fund the government for the coming year.
“As the son of a Polish immigrant, a man of deep and devout faith, Jack knows that every number on a page, every dollar we budget, every decision we make has to be an expression of who we wish to be as a nation, our values, the values that say everybody gets a fair shot at opportunity,” Obama said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Lew will replace outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the longest-serving member of Obama’s economic team.
“When the history books are written, Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest secretaries of the Treasury,” Obama said, noting that the Treasury Secretary helped craft the administration’s response to the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the worst since the Great Depression.
“With the wreckage of our economy still smoldering and unstable, I asked him to help put it back together. And thanks in large part to his steady hand, our economy has been growing again for the past three years,” Obama said.
Geithner is expected to remain at his post until Jan. 25. He is then believed to be returning to work in the private sector.
During the announcement in the East Room of the White House Thursday, the president poked fun at Lew for his autograph, which resembles a long string of loops.
“I had never noticed Jack’s signature, and when this was highlighted yesterday in the press, I considered rescinding my offer to appoint him,” Obama joked in the East Room at the White House during Thursday’s announcement. “Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency he be confirmed as secretary of the Treasury.”
Lew’s signature, which will be featured on every U.S. dollar bill if he is confirmed as Treasury Secretary, came to light Wednesday as reporters highlighted the current chief of staff’s eccentric and illegible autograph.
Asked whether Lew is working on his penmanship, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Treasury secretaries in the past, such as Timothy Geithner and John Snow, have tried to enhance the legibility of their signatures before hitting the dollar bills, but it’s unclear whether Lew will reform his autograph or continue with the loops.
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