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Obama's Treasury Secretary Nomination Reflective Of His Second Term Priorities

President Obama announced his nomination of Jack Lew as the new secretary of Treasury. Lew has been the president's third and — by some accounts — most successful chief of staff.

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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner looked relieved this afternoon in the East Room of the White House. Maybe that's because President Obama officially nominated his successor, Jack Lew. Lew is currently the White House chief of staff, and he's also been the president's budget director. As NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, the selection of an administration insider to the nation's top financial post says a lot about the president's second-term priorities.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: President Obama said that Jack Lew has a lot in common with the man he's replacing, Tim Geithner, who, the president said, epitomizes his Treasury Department's motto: no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One reason Jack has been so effective in this town is because he is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras. And over the years, he's built a reputation as a master of policy who can work with members of both parties and forge principled compromises.

LIASSON: And that's what the president wants Lew to do. While Geithner's tenure was consumed by the financial crisis, Lew's job will be to work with Congress on tax and budget issues, to try, if possible, to find the elusive grand bargain on the deficit. That's something Mr. Obama says that Lew has done before.

OBAMA: As a congressional staffer in the 1980s, he helped negotiate the deal between President Reagan and Tip O'Neill to save Social Security. Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row. So for all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it - three times.

LIASSON: Unlike many past Treasury secretaries, Lew is not a creature of Wall Street, although he did work as an investment banker after he left the Clinton administration. Lew is known as a deficit hawk who will also fight tooth and nail to protect Democratic priorities and safety net programs.

OBAMA: Jack knows that every number on a page, every dollar we budget, every decision we make has to be an expression of who we wish to be as a nation - our values, the values that say everybody gets a fair shot at opportunity and says that we expect all of us to fulfill our individual obligations as citizens in return.

LIASSON: There is one problem Lew might face. After the obligatory thanks to his parents and family, Lew disclosed that he and Tim Geithner share more than just a low-key personality.

JACOB LEW: It was only yesterday that I discovered that we both share a common challenge with penmanship.

(LAUGHTER)

LIASSON: There's nothing loopy about Jack Lew except his signature - a series of curlicues that look like an unspooled slinky, just an idiosyncrasy for an ordinary bureaucrat, but, as Mr. Obama suggests, maybe something more for the guy whose signature is on every single dollar bill.

OBAMA: Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency.

LIASSON: Republicans, meanwhile, were focusing on Lew's policy signature. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, said on CNN that Lew must never become secretary of the Treasury.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: I believe this man has been the architect of the Obama budget policy. I believe it's very fundamentally wrong, and I do not believe he's been honest with the American people about it.

LIASSON: But Sessions wouldn't say he planned to put a hold on Lew's nomination or lead a filibuster, and all indications are that Jack Lew will be confirmed without a big fight. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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