John Nichols gives us twelve reasons to pause over the Jack Lew nomination for Treasury Secretary, in his The Nation column yesterday. I’ve already said that I’m fine with the Lew nomination, although I haven’t looked into it that much. But my thinking is generally that the president should be able to have the cabinet that he wants. In fact, I would go further. After listen to all of the Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination hearings, I concluded that as much as I hated the man, I thought he should be confirmed. We get a choice when we elect the president. If we are stupid enough to vote in Reagan, we deserve what we get. And if we elect a spineless promoter of the status quo, then we should not complain when he surrounds himself with the more reasonable members of the Washington establishment.
I think that Nichols’ problem with Lew is the same as his problem with the Clinton administration. And I agree with him! Two major mistakes of that time were NAFTA and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. But there are two big problems with laying this on Lew. First, Lew wasn’t that big a player in the Clinton administration, and anyway, the policies were Clinton’s, not Lew’s. Second, Obama is no more liberal on these policies than Clinton was. The truth is that the Democrats have been unable to elect even a marginally liberal president since Johnson, and I would argue all the way back to Roosevelt.
But that doesn’t mean I think we should just (as Nichols says) “rubber stamp” Lew. I would really like to hear him answer all of Nichols’ questions. Nichols pulls no punches:
3. You served as head of Bill Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget when he was working with a Republican Congress to undermine the Glass-Steagall Act and to enact the Wall Street–friendly Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Progressives opposed these initiatives, warning that they erred too far on the side of deregulation. Wellstone warned that “Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.” Did you share any of those concerns or were you all on board with the deregulation push?
7. During George W. Bush’s presidency, you served as a managing director of CitiGroup, which paid you more than $1-million a year and gave you a $945,000 bonus just days before you joined the Obama administration (as a State Department appointee) in 2009. Is it wise to put a former banker in charge of a cabinet agency that has quite a significant role to play in debates about how the federal government might regulate, and more generally relate to, banks that are sometimes referred to as “too-big-to-fail”? As Treasury Secretary, you will head the Financial Services Oversight Council, a Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act creation that has the power to “resolve”—i.e., dissolve—”financially-dangerous” institutions such as “too-big-to-fail” banks. Watchdog groups such as Public Citizen worry that you retain “deep Wall Street connections.” Would your ties to Citigroup prevent you from dissolving Citigroup and/or similarly large financial institutions if they posed a threat to the US economy?
10. Do you believe that investing in job-creation initiatives, and other steps that grow the economy, should be central to any deficit-reduction strategy? Many European countries have focused on deficit reduction as the highest priority, implementing harsh austerity programs that accept high unemployment and deep cuts in social services as a necessary consequence of budget balancing. Many Republicans in Congress claim to embrace this approach, arguing that nothing is more important that addressing deficits and debts. What’s your take on austerity?
If I thought that any Democrats might ask questions like these, I’d be glued to C-SPAN. But alas, I think it will not be so. Instead, we’re likely to get a lot of conservative questions about whether Lew is now or has ever been a member of the human race. That alone would disqualify him in the eyes of most Republicans.
Any concerns I may have about Lew as a liberal are trumped by this one fact: he can’t possibly be worse than Tim Geithner.
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