WASHINGTON President Barack Obama is expected to name longtime Washington insider Jacob "Jack" Lew today as his next treasury secretary, a pivotal post as negotiations commence over raising the nation's debt ceiling and staving off controversial scheduled cuts in federal spending.
Lew, the White House chief of staff and a former budget director for Obama and President Bill Clinton, would replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the last remaining member of Obama's original economic team, who wants to step down.
The move fills out the top tier of Obama's choices for the coming second term as several members of the administration move on.
While Attorney General Eric Holder plans to remain, Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defense; and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to replace CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned last year after an extramarital affair.
Obama also must fill other positions. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced her resignation Wednesday. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has resigned. And Lew's move opens the key job of White House chief of staff.
So far, Obama has nominated four white men to top posts since his re-election. Aides urged voters to see his full slate of nominations and appointments to judge his commitment to diversity.
In Lew, Obama is seeking a secretary who lacks the luster of a Wall Street CEO or the gravitas of a renowned economic forecaster. But he would get a trusted confidant who has the president's ear and one with extensive experience in the federal budget, perhaps the most serious flash point now in the government, with Obama engaged in battles with the Republican House of Representatives over taxes and spending.
Lew so far has not drawn any of the partisan fire that instantly greeted reports of Obama's plans to nominate U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to be secretary of state or Hagel to be secretary of defense. That could suggest he'd win relatively easy confirmation in the Senate, which earlier confirmed his appointment to the lower profile post of deputy secretary of state.
He'd immediately step into the fray. The United States on Dec. 31 hit its $16.4 trillion debt limit, and the Treasury Department has undertaken what are called "emergency measures" to keep paying the bills it owes to creditors. These measures, however, may run out as early as Feb. 15, raising the potential of a partial default on some U.S. debt, which could disrupt global financial markets.
Lew is a longtime Washington insider, working in the 1970s for longtime House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, and is a veteran of decades of budget negotiations. He also served as deputy secretary of state for management and resources.
As a Washington insider, Lew is unusual when seen against past secretaries.
Geithner ran the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. George W. Bush had former Goldman Sachs chief Henry Paulson and high profile CEOs in the post. Clinton's treasury secretaries included an esteemed senator, Texas Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, and then-Citibank chief Robert Rubin.
Obama's choice of a man with little experience in finance or on the world stage may simply reflect that the "bigger challenges are at home" for the economy, said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.