What the Left Won't Like About Jack Lew

Outgoing White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley had a famously bad relationship with Democrats in Congress but will Jack Lew, his newly-appointed successor, do any better?

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Outgoing White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley had a famously bad relationship with Democrats in Congress but will Jack Lew, his newly-appointed successor, do any better? According to Politico's Scott Wong the consensus view is that Lew's appointment will "instantly smooth relations between the White House and congressional Democrats, particularly considering [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid’s well-known animus toward Daley." But here are some of the things those on the left, particularly in Congress, may have problems with.

His willingness to cut the safety net The New Republic's Noam Scheiber, who just finished writing a book about President Obama's economic team, has been following Lew's moves in the White House for some time. He notes that Lew's willingness to compromise with Republicans has already angered progressive Democrats. "Lew and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were the administration’s chief proponents of accepting cuts to Medicare during last year's ceaseless deficit-bargaining with Republicans," he writes. "Lew's enthusiasm for making a deal on Medicare was such that it prompted considerable grumbling in progressive circles. There’s also the question of whether accommodating the GOP’s demands for large-looking cuts, even while minimizing them in practice, was as successful strategically as it was tactically. One could argue, after all, that the approach shifted the conversation entirely in the direction of cuts for much of the year, which wasn’t exactly a smashing success."

The Republicans' admiration for him An endorsement no Democrat needs is one from the GOP. But as The Washington Post' Ezra Klein notes, Lew has "emerged as one of the members of the Obama administration Republicans prefer working with." Klein's evidence stems from a profile by Ben Smith from last summer titled "A liberal GOP says it trusts," which includes a ringing endorsement from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “No one was more prepared and more in tune with the numbers than Jack Lew," said Cantor. “He was always very polite and respectful in his tone and someone who I can tell is very committed to his principles.” Still, the profile makes clear he's a committed liberal that's nevertheless sensitive to nuance. “His sympathies are clearly progressive," says New York Senator Chuck Schumer, "but I’ve never seem him spin the facts to meet his viewpoint.”

He's too wonky for congressional Democrats In a new repot by Politico's Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown, a Democratic aide is pessimistic about the appointment. “‘He likes to confuse members with wonk speak that leave one impression but often mean something very different,” the senior Democratic congressional aide said. "It’s odd that he’s viewed as having strong relationships with the Hill, but of course after Daley the bar is pretty low."

So why Lew By all accounts, the budget director is described as a highly pleasant and likable guy. He also appears to be the best fit given the alternatives.  “Only a couple of other replacements beyond Lew were briefly mulled," write Budoff Brown and Thrush. They were "National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, the front-runner for the job when Emanuel left in late 2010 to run for mayor of Chicago, and Phil Schiliro, Obama’s recently departed legislative affairs director." They add, "One alternative not seriously discussed: Obama’s senior counselor and former interim chief of staff Pete Rouse, who didn’t want to reprise the stopgap role he played for a few months last year. There were two reasons: Rouse didn’t want to do it, and Obama wanted a more forceful decision-maker in the post. The laid-back Rouse is better known for crafting detailed battle plans than ramming them through.”

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