Six things you didn’t know about Jack Lew

Jack Lew is reportedly on deck to be President Barack Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, replacing Tim Geithner. The 57-year-old New York City native, Obama’s current chief of staff, is well known in Washington for heading the Office of Management and Budget in both the Obama administration and the Clinton administration. 

What may be lesser known than the official titles is the depth of Lew’s experience inside and outside of DC. It’s experience that will serve him well as the U.S. approaches its borrowing limit (which one think tank says may be hit as early as mid-February).

Here are six things you may not have known about Jack Lew:

He’s a debt-ceiling debate veteran. The coming debate over the $16.4 trillion U.S. debt ceiling won’t be the first for the country, or for Lew. Lew reportedly irked House Speaker John Boehner and the Ohio Republican’s staff during talks over the borrowing limit in 2011, the same talks that resulted in raising the ceiling but later prompted a downgrade by Standard & Poor’s. Boehner’s chief of staff found Lew’s tone “disrespectful and dismissive,” according to Bob Woodward’s book “The Price of Politics.” But Lew’s defense of entitlement programs like Medicare endears him to liberals.

He gets credit for reducing hoped-for Republican cuts. Aides credit Lew and Gene Sperling, another top Obama aide, with reducing the amount of budget savings sought by Republicans in the 2011 government-shutdown debate. According to a Huffington Post profile of Lew from last year, House Republicans left that debate believing they had secured $100 billion in savings only to learn that it was actually $32 billion that they’d won. Lew’s nomination would take place just after the conclusion of the fiscal-cliff battle, and as Republicans pledge to cut government spending. Some Republicans are even threatening a shutdown. Both sides will have their mettle tested anew sometime before March 27, when current government funding runs out.

He’s not just a Washington guy. The would-be Treasury secretary has some Wall Street experience, but it is a mixed bag. Before joining the Obama administration, he was chief operating officer of a Citigroup investments unit that reportedly lost money but also profited from betting against the subprime mortgage market. Lew has also been chief operating officer at New York University and once worked for Bella Abzug, the social activist and New York Congresswoman.

His first big DC job was working for Tip O’Neill. Lew’s first major job in Washington was on the staff of the legendary Thomas (“Tip”) O’Neill, the former House speaker and longtime congressman from Massachusetts. According to a National Journal profile, Lew served on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which in 1979 oversaw things very relevant to Lew’s later life, including appropriations, the U.S. budget and taxes.

He was once OK with raising the Medicare eligibility age. One of the premier issues in the coming fiscal fights between the White House and congressional Republicans will be entitlement spending. Republicans say that health-care programs have been among “the most difficult for [Lew] to look at” and have made clear that they’ll push for cuts. But could Lew go along with at least one idea to save money? In the past, he reportedly was willing to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. That idea would gel with a plan floated late last year by Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. But raising the age infuriates many liberals.

Lew brings his lunch to work. The budget wonk’s midday meal is a cheese sandwich and an apple, according to the New York Times. He eats at his desk.

– Robert Schroeder

Market Watch: Six things you didn’t know about Jack Lew

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