Senate confirms Lew as treasury secretary


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Jacob J. Lew as treasury secretary, allowing the longtime budget expert to take office as President Barack Obama deals with looming automatic federal spending cuts.

Lew, 57, was approved by a 71-26 vote. He succeeds Timothy F. Geithner, who stepped down in January after four years in the job.

Lew brings different expertise to the job than Geithner, who had a deep background dealing with financial markets and Wall Street.

For his second treasury secretary, Obama chose a person with a long history of crafting budgets and helping negotiate spending deals with Republicans in Congress.

Lew, who has been working in Washington since the 1970s, was budget director for President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. And Lew held the same position with the Obama administration from 2010 until early 2012, when he became White House chief of staff.

Democrats touted his deep expertise in budgeting as a key reason for confirming him. But although Lew was confirmed with significant bipartisan support, some Republicans were outspoken in opposition to his nomination.

They criticized him for his support of Obama’s view that tax increases are needed to help reduce the nation’s debt.

And the Republican opponents said they had unanswered questions about his job as an executive at Citigroup Inc. from 2006 to 2009 and as chief operating officer at New York University.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said he voted against the nomination because Lew misled senators and the public about whether Obama’s budgets would balance the budget in the future.

Sessions accused Lew of “the greatest financial misrepresentation concerning the finances of this nation ever made” when he asserted Obama’s 2011 proposed budget would, within a couple of years, keep federal spending from adding to the nation’s debt.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said he opposed the nomination because Lew did not provide satisfactory answers to questions about salary and other compensation Lew received at Citigroup and New York University.

“If Mr. Lew will not answer our questions now, why should we expect him to answer any questions if he is confirmed?” Grassley said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also voted against Lew. He said he did not support another top Obama economic adviser with a Wall Street background and did not believe Lew would be tough enough on big banks.