Anyone who was surprised by yesterday's announcement that the president had nominated White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary either hasn't been reading the tea leaves correctly or were too distracted by the fiscal cliff to notice that the stars were all aligned for this to happen.
The fact that Lew, who had taken the lead in many previous budget negotiations, was all-but-invisible during the recent fiscal cliff discussions was a sure sign that the White House wanted to protect him from any criticism over the results that might come back to bite during confirmation hearings. Lew was involved, but he wasn't out front.
The tea leaves have also pointed to Lew for some time because:
1. The usual background for a Treasury secretary -- deep Wall Street experience -- wasn't available to the White House this time because financial executives are still considered politically toxic inside the beltway.
2. The biggest fights for the next Treasury secretary will be over taxes, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Lew knows more about those topics than anyone else in the administration.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew will be making his first appearance on Meet The Press as COS tomorrow, the day before the Obama fiscal 2013 budget will be released. Lew will also be on all of the other Sunday talk shows.
The budget, which as OMB director was Lew's responsibility, will be one of the prime topics.
I hate to say I told you so but here's what I said on CG&G two weeks ago about the likely guests on the Sunday talk shows that would air on February 12:
...the days that elapse between the (GOP) primar(ies) and the following Sundays will make it hard for the se shows and the rest of the weekend coverage to focus just on that story. That will leave a big opening for the impending news of the fiscal 2013 budget that the administration will be releasing.
Just-named White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who as OMB director was responsible for putting the fiscal 2013 proposal together, will be especially hard for talk-show producers to ignore.
The word "good"in the headline above is not a judgment call on the tenure of the three OMB directors/White House chiefs of staff this post is about. Instead, the headline is about this question: Why do OMB directors appear to the presidents they serve as a "good" choice for chief of staff?
This is a question that was asked repeatedly this past week after the third consecutive administration replaced an existing COS with someone who at the time was the director of the Office of Management and Budget. In case you're too young or too old to remember, the OMB-to-WH switches were Leon Panetta (Clinton), Josh Bolton (Bush 43) and, now, Jack Lew.
The same basic question is often asked by baseball analysts and fans about why catchers frequently become managers.
The White House announced about two hours ago that OMB Director Jack Lew has been named the new chief of staff, replacing William Daley.
Lew is a good choice for COS. He gets not just good but great marks for his management skills and, given what he's been through at OMB, obviously knows how to deal with pressure situations.
But his leaving OMB now puts that agency in a bind because, unless something happened late last year that I didn't hear about, the deputy director for budget -- Rob Nabors -- hasn't been confirmed yet by the Senate. That likely means that Jeff Zients, the deputy for management, is the only one at OMB who legally can be acting director.
I would not be at all surprised if National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling gets nominated to replace Lew at OMB. Gene was mentioned prominently the last time the job was open as a possible replacement for then-OMB Director Peter Orszag (Full disclosure: My name was also among those listed in the news reports) and it's hardly a secret that he lusts after the job.
In case you missed this yesterday because you were slow-cooking chili while waiting for the Super Bowl to begin, the communications battles on the fiscal 2012 budget began yesterday with this op-ed in the New York Times by OMB Director Jack Lew that provides the first few details about the reductions that will be proposed next Monday.
Most of the op-ed is a repeat of the themes the president used when talking about the budget in his State of the Union Address. But unless I missed them somewhere else, these three soon-to-be-proposed cuts were mentioned for the first time:
- Community Service Block Grants: Cut by $350 million with the remaining amount changed from a formula to a competitive grant
- Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Cut by $125 million
- Community Development Block Grants: Cut by $300 million
Several things stand out about the op-ed.