September 22, 2019

Lew to Complete Change of Obama’s Economic Team

Mr. Obama called Mr. Lew “a master of policy who can work with membes of both parties and forge principled compromises.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Lew, 57, would become just the second Treasury secretary for Mr. Obama, succeeding Timothy F. Geithner, who at the president’s insistence stayed for the entire first term.

Mr. Geithner, formerly president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and a top Treasury official in the Clinton administration, was the last remaining principal from the original Obama economic team that took office at the height of the global financial crisis in January 2009.

Mr. Lew, in brief remarks, did not address the looming challenges of the job, saying only that he looked forward to leading a Treasury staff that he called “legendary for their skill and knowledge.”

Mr. Geithner, who received a warm send-off, said his successor was “committed to defending the safety net for the elderly and the poor,” a reference to programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, which are under intense pressure in the long-running fiscal negotiations.

Mr. Lew also “understands what it takes to create the conditions for economic growth,” he added.

While the team is changing, so far it is made up entirely of men who have been part of the administration since its first months. Gene Sperling, like Mr. Lew a veteran of the Clinton administration and the partisan budget wars of that era, is expected to remain as director of the White House National Economic Council. Alan B. Krueger, a former Treasury economist, will continue as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and Jeffrey D. Zients, a former business executive, remains for now as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, though Mr. Obama is said to want to promote him to another job.

That composition gives Mr. Obama a high degree of comfort with his economic advisers, who have experience in the budget struggles that have occupied the administration since Republicans took control of the House two years ago. Those struggles will resume later this month. Yet the continuity also plays into criticism that the president is too insular and insufficiently open to outside voices and fresh eyes in the White House.

If Mr. Lew is confirmed in time, his first test as Treasury secretary could come as soon as next month, when the administration and Congressional Republicans are expected to face off over increasing the nation’s debt ceiling, which is the legal limit on the amount that the government can borrow. Mr. Obama has said he will not negotiate over raising that limit, which was often lifted routinely in the past, but Republican leaders have said they will refuse to support an increase unless he agrees to an equal amount of spending cuts, particularly to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Mr. Lew was passed over for Mr. Obama’s economic team four years ago, when Mr. Obama instead chose Lawrence H. Summers, a former Harvard University president and Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, as director of the National Economic Council. Hillary Rodham Clinton then hired Mr. Lew at the State Department when she became secretary, and in late 2010 — over the objections of Mrs. Clinton, who had come to rely on Mr. Lew — Mr. Obama made him budget director, the same post Mr. Lew had held late in the Clinton administration.

Mr. Lew in the 1980s was a Democratic adviser to the House speaker at the time, Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., participating in fiscal talks with the Reagan administration. Mr. Lew is known for his low-key style and organizational skills.

While Mr. Lew has much less experience than Mr. Geithner in international economics and financial markets, he would come to the job with far more expertise in fiscal policy and dealing with Congress than Mr. Geithner did. That shift in skills reflects the changed times, when emphasis has shifted from a global financial crisis to the budget fights with Republicans in Congress.

John H. Cushman Jr. contributed reporting.

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