Jack Lew was confirmed by the Senate as the next Treasury secretary, effectively sending the former White House chief of staff into the middle of the bitter political fight over the government’s budget.
Lew made it past the Senate confirmation with a 71-26 vote and all of the chamber’s 53 Democrats voted for him.
Lew’s most difficult task in the coming days will be to find a compromise between the White House and Congress to lessen the economic blow expected by the $85 million budget spending cuts.
Reuters reports that those cuts will kick in on Friday, followed by two more budget deadlines. Lew’s confirmation was much smoother than defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s was, though they both saw opposition from Republicans.
The next budget deadlines are March 27 and May 19. The funds for most government operations will expire in late March, while the US government’s borrowing limit will be reached in May.
Lew previously served as President Obama’s chief of staff and has also served as the White House budget director under Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
The Treasury secretary has historically been an easy nominee to pass through confirmation, with the exception of Obama’s last pick, Timothy F. Geithner, who was confirmed by a 60-34 vote, notes The New York Times.
It appeared in the confirmation of Jack Lew that the Senate returned to allowing the president deference in selecting his cabinet. Some Republicans also spoke of the need to give Obama flexibility to name his own cabinet, even if they disagreed with the person’s politics. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who voted for Lew, explained:
“My vote in favor of Mr. Lew comes with no small amount of reservation, and I don’t fault any of my colleagues for choosing to vote against him. I hope he and the president take note that I am bending over backwards to display deference.”
Hatch is the senior Republican on the Senate’s Finance Committee. The only major objector to Jack Lew’s appointment came from Bernie Sanders, and independent Senator from Vermont. Sanders questioned Lew’s background with Citigroup, saying:
“We need a secretary of the Treasury who does not come from Wall Street but is prepared to stand up to the enormous power of Wall Street. Do I believe that Jack Lew is that person? No, I do not.”
Despite the contention from Sanders and some Republicans, Jack Lew will take his position as Treasury secretary shortly. The next nominee to go through the confirmation process is John Brennan, Obama’s pick as the next director of the CIA.