The news of President Obama’s decision to make his chief of staff, Jack Lew, the next Treasury Secretary is a good one. I’ve known Jack for years. He was excellent as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and a great chief of staff to the President.
That said, the real question that Lew’s impending appointment raises is not whether Lew is qualified for the job – he certainly is in my opinion – but whether he will persuade the President to go forward with a grand bargain that will actually solve our problems rather than just win the politics of the day.
To be sure, the Democrats won the politics of the fiscal cliff last week. The deal was all tax increases and almost no spending cuts. It was imbalanced and accomplished little to none of the Republican agenda.
As to be expected, a deal that one sided does not, and cannot, address the problem of the deficit, the debt, entitlement reform and spending cuts. There is still much work to do if we are to solve the nations fiscal problems.
We need the President to be expansive as he promised to be on the campaign trail just a few short months ago. We need him to work across the aisle and compromise. Based on what we have seen since November 7th, this is unlikely to happen of his own volition and we need the next Treasury Secretary to push him there.
President Obama needs to get to the place Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson described, and have been advocating, for the past few years. They argued on Meet the Press this past Sunday that the President must adopt a pro-growth plan based on raising taxes, cutting spending, reducing military spending and reigning in entitlements.
Indeed, there is widespread support for this approach within the public. It is only the government that remains cautious to make these changes in order to avoid catastrophic consequences.
It follows that it will be Jack Lew’s job to push the President to be the conciliator and grand bargainer that he needs to be. The electorate is certainly in favor and it will be the true test of his mettle as Treasury Secretary if he can get Obama to match their expectations.