Why Obama likes Lew to lead Treasury

President Barack Obama is expected, as early as Thursday, to announce that he has picked White House chief of staff Jack Lew to succeed departing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

In doing so, according to a source close to the process, Obama is drafting a trusted confidant who played a key role in crafting popular Clinton-era economic policies.

If confirmed by the Senate, Lew, 57, would take the reins from Geithner just in time for a series of confrontations with congressional Republicans on everything from raising the debt ceiling to averting automatic domestic and defense spending cuts to deciding how much to fund government agencies after a stopgap measure expires in late March.

So why pick Lew? The source, who strongly supports the president and Lew—and who declined to confirm published news reports that Obama had settled on the soft-spoken economic policy wonk—laid out a three-part “Why Obama would pick Lew” argument to Yahoo News.

First, he has been at Obama’s side over the past two years as the president has fought his most difficult battles with Congress. Lew served first as director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and then as chief of staff. He’s played key roles in the fights over the national debt, the deficit and the Budget Control Act of 2011 that coupled raising the debt ceiling with deep spending cuts. Lew would hit the ground running at a time when whoever runs Treasury won’t have the luxury of on-the-job learning.

Second, Lew served as Bill Clinton’s budget chief and was a key player on that two-term Democrat’s team as he negotiated with Republicans in Congress to reduce the deficit and implemented policies that helped create record surpluses and boosted economic growth—and therefore job creation. With unemployment still stubbornly high as Obama takes the oath of office a second time, the argument goes, Lew is a symbol of a successful path forward.

Obama campaigned for re-election in large part on raising taxes on the wealthy back to where they were under Clinton, mocked Republicans for arguing Clinton’s approach would wreck the economy and dubbed Clinton “secretary of 'splaining stuff” when it comes to growth and jobs.

Third, and perhaps most intriguing, the source underlined that Lew is Jewish, observant enough that he does not work on Saturdays, and that his religious background has helped him earn a reputation for integrity. His private values are reflected in his public life, the source said. The fact that Lew is an honest broker who keeps his word makes him (unfortunately) stand out inside the Beltway, the source said.

The Lew choice may come just days after Obama signaled a willingness to battle conservative critics in Congress by nominating Republican former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary. Hagel sharply criticized his party's handling of world affairs during George W. Bush's second term, earning the enmity of many in the GOP. Obama has also picked White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA and nominated Democratic Sen. John Kerry to be secretary of state.