It’s hard to imagine a clearer sign of Obama’s planned intransigence on the looming debt talks then his selection of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary. Supporters of the nomination hail Lew’s long experience at the Office of Management and Budget and understanding of the federal budget. Obama wants Lew to serve as his Administration’s lead negotiator with Congress over the debt ceiling and budget. Few people are as ill-equipped for that role.
Lew is a very unconventional pick to head up Treasury. A life-time political staffer, he has little of the private sector experience felt necessary to be a success in the position. His recent stint at Citigroup coincided with the implosion of the bank that necessitated a federal bailout. It is not likely to be a pick to instill confidence in the markets or among overseas investors.
Lew, however, does know a lot about the federal budget. He has twice directed the Office of Management and Budget, first under President Clinton and recently under President Obama. He understands the budget as a technocrat, though, rather than someone crafting overarching policies. A second drawback is that it seems Congressional Republicans neither like nor trust him.
As Breitbart News’ Joel Pollak noted:
Jack Lew, current White House Chief of Staff and reportedly President Barack Obama’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury in his second term, so irritated congressional Republicans during debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 that Speaker of the House John Boehner personally asked Obama to exclude Lew from the talks.
Lew also frequently condescended to Republicans during the negotiations, Woodward writes, by arguing that they should acquiesce in Obama’s policies because his positions were better for them, politically.
Obama’s apparent decision to choose Lew on the eve of renewed negotiations on the debt ceiling, when he knows how toxic Lew was to negotiations last time, is a clear sign that he intends to drive a hard bargain with Republicans and that he is even less interested in compromise than he was during his first term.
In the coming weeks, the federal government will hit its borrowing limit, trigger automatic across-the-board spending cuts, and, see the expiration of the continuing resolution that has been funding government operations. These will happen almost simultaneously and will require a level of negotiations unseen in the past several years.
With divided government, both sides would ordinarily accept compromises to reach a final deal. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that Obama doesn’t think the ordinary should apply to him. Few in his Administration have worse a relationship with the Congressional GOP than Lew. Yet, he is who Obama has picked to lead the most critical negotiations of his Presidency.
It is not the move of a President who is preparing to compromise.