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January 11, 2013

Obama picks Lew for Treasury post

WASHINGTON — For 30 years, Jack Lew has had a hand in some of the biggest economic deals negotiated in Washington. What awaits him if he’s confirmed as treasury secretary could far exceed any challenge of the past — a triple-decked potential crisis that will test his experience the moment he opens his office door on the third floor of the Treasury Building.

Lew, nominated for the job Thursday by President Barack Obama, has honed his skills in the trenches of fiscal policy, helping forge major deals encompassing Social Security and budgets for the likes of former Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Bill Clinton.

Obama highlighted that experience in announcing Lew’s selection, an unmistakable nod to the fast-approaching deadlines to raise the government borrowing limit, avert deep and immediate spending cuts and extend government operations.

“I trust his judgment,” Obama said. “I value his friendship. I know very few people with greater integrity.”

Flanked by Lew and outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in the White House’s ornate East Room, Obama in effect underscored the nation’s changing economic landscape. In Geithner, Obama had a longtime international finance specialist with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve who took office in 2009 at the height of the nation’s banking crisis. In Lew, currently the White House chief of staff, he has a premier budget expert and close ally as the government plunges into its next struggle over debts and deficits.

Of the three looming events that would confront him if confirmed, none has the potential for more economic damage than the debt ceiling. Failure to increase it from its current $16.4 trillion would force the government to default on its debts.

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