By choosing White House chief of staff Jacob Lew as his new treasury secretary, President Obama is bracing himself to battle congressional Republicans in 2013, not seeking bipartisan compromises with them. If confirmed, Lew would succeed Tim Geithner in the treasury job.
The Lew decision is only the latest indication of Obama’s eagerness to crush Republican opposition on Capitol Hill. Conspicuously absent since his reelection has been any talk of amicably bringing the sides together in Washington. Even while private discussions on averting the fiscal cliff were going on last November and December, Obama was attacking Republicans publicly and threatening them privately.
There will be plenty of opportunity for partisan clashes this year. Obama wants to raise the debt limit, fully implement his health care law, and defeat Republican efforts to cut spending and reform entitlements.
Republicans who’ve dealt with Lew in negotiations on taxes and spending regard him as the most partisan, ideological, and uncompromising of Obama’s aides. In talks, he has brushed aside their proposals for trimming the deficit and controlling the national debt.
From the moment last year when Lew was mentioned as a possible treasury secretary, his nomination was viewed as an indicator of Obama’s plans for his second term. Would he pursue serious negotiations on deficit reduction and other issues with Republicans or try to impose his own liberal policies? Now we know.
Lew reflects the president’s hard-line position, adopted in 2011, in dealing with Republicans. Obama, for example, has insisted he won’t agree to any spending cuts as part of an agreement to gain approval of an increase in the debt limit, as he was forced to in 2011. According to the Obama administration, if the limit isn’t raised by February 15, it will lose its ability to acquire more debt.
In recent months, Obama has gone to great lengths to express his hostility to GOP calls for reduced spending. House speaker John Boehner quoted the president last week as claiming, “We don’t have a spending problem.” Deficits exceeded $1 trillion annually in Obama’s first four years as president and another $1 trillion shortfall is projected for 2013.
In mid-December, he told Boehner that he would attack Republicans in his Second Inaugural Address and State of the Union speech if they didn’t accede to a fiscal cliff accord, the Wall Street Journal reported. Such attacks would be an unprecedented step for a president in dealing with Congress.
Lew’s nomination would follow those of ex-Republican senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and John Brennan for CIA director. Those Cabinet choices reflect an ideological shift to the left by Obama in his second term and have stirred strong Republican pushback.
Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has been critical of Lew for his controversial statements. “Senator Sessions believes that once all the facts are known it will be difficult for Jack Lew to win confirmation,” Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller said.