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PORTSIDE  January 2013, Week 2

PORTSIDE January 2013, Week 2

Subject:

Twelve Questions Progressives Should Ask Jack Lew

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Date:

Sat, 12 Jan 2013 01:37:58 -0500

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Twelve Questions Progressives Should Ask Jack Lew

John Nichols
January 10, 2013 http://www.thenation.com/blog/172131/twelve-questions-progressives-should-ask-jack-lew

How do we reconcile the contradictions that are
inherent in Jack Lew— the Carleton College student
whose faculty adviser was Professor Paul Wellstone and
the Clinton aide who promoted trade agreements and
budget policies that Senator Paul Wellstone opposed,
the former aide to populist Massachusetts Congressmen
Joe Moakley and Tip O’Neill who made at least $1.1.
million a year as a managing director of Citigroup—whom
President Obama has nominated to replace Tim Geithner
as secretary of the Treasury.

A lot of Senate Republicans think they have figured Lew
out. They don’t like him. Indeed, they dismiss the
veteran Clinton administration and Obama administration
aide who currently serves as White House Chief of Staff
as “The Man Who Cannot Say Yes to Republicans.” Alabama
Senator Jeff Sessions, a key Republican on budget
issues, said nominating Lew for the Treasury post would
be “a mistake.” Barry Johnson, House Speaker John
Boehner’s former chief of staff, told Bob Woodward that
the problem Republicans have with Lew is that the man
who served as both Clinton and Obama’s Office of
Management and Budget director was “always trying to
protect the sacred cows of the left.”

There’s something to the GOP gripe: Back in 2008 and
2009, Lew fought for a big stimulus plan, and he’s got
a track record of defending Social Security, Medicare
and Medicaid that goes back to the 1980s.

Yet Lew is, as well, the steady defender of
deregulation who headed Clinton’s OMB when the previous
Democratic president organized the gutting of New
Deal–era Glass-Steagall protections against banker
adventurism. He hails from the same inner circle as
Geithner and Lawrence Summers. And there was that
Citigroup stint. And, while he suggests that Lew’s
nomination is likely to be approved, Senator Bernie
Sanders, I-Vermont, says: “He will be confirmed without
my vote. At a time when the middle class is collapsing
and millions of workers are unemployed, I do not
believe he is the right person at the right time to
serve in this important position.”

How many Democrats will join Sanders? That will be
determined by the quality of questioning Lew faces, and
the quality of the nominee’s responses.

Progressive Democrats, who have been justifiably
frustrated with the defining role that Wall
Street–aligned Clintonites have played in setting—or is
it “warping” – Obama administration economic policies,
do the president no favors by simply rubber-stamping
Lew.

The nominee must make a case for Senate approval of his
nomination. Republicans will ask plenty of tough
questions. Democrats should as well.

To wit:

1. You were a special assistant to Bill Clinton when he
worked with Newt Gingrich to pass the North American
Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade. Your former professor Paul Wellstone
opposed both agreements as a US senator, arguing that
they undermined jobs, labor standards, environmental
protections and democracy. Who was right? Clinton or
Wellstone?

2. As Treasury secretary, you will have a big role to
play in international wrangling over trade policies and
complaints about Chinese currency manipulation. We’ve
got record trade deficits with China and there are
estimates that trade policies have cost as many as 2.8
million American jobs. Do you think that successive US
administrations, several of which you have served, have
been too lax when it comes to international economic
relations? What have you learned from your experience
of two decades as an advocate for free-trade
agreements? Does the United States need to get tougher
with its trading partners? Do you have any objections
to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s Currency Exchange Rate
Oversight Reform Act?

3. You served as head of Bill Clinton’s Office of
Management and Budget when he was working with a
Republican Congress to undermine the Glass-Steagall Act
and to enact the Wall Street–friendly Financial
Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity
Futures Modernization Act. Progressives opposed these
initiatives, warning that they erred too far on the
side of deregulation. Wellstone warned that “Glass-
Steagall was intended to protect our financial system
by insulating commercial banking from other forms of
risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to
keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is
about to repeal that economic stabilizer without
putting any comparable safeguard in its place.” Did you
share any of those concerns or were you all on board
with the deregulation push?

4. Former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan said during
the 1999 Glass-Steagall debate: “I think we will look
back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done
this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the
past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true
in 2010.” In hindsight, considering the banking
meltdown and all the economic pain that followed upon
it, do you think that Dorgan might have been on to
something?

5. In October 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama
said: “We know that it’s because of deregulation that
Wall Street was able to engage in the kind of
irresponsible actions that have caused this financial
crisis.” In September 2010, you told the Senate Budget
Committee, “The problems in the financial industry
preceded deregulation.” With regard to the financial-
services industry meltdown of 2008, you said that “I
don’t believe that deregulation was the proximate
cause.” Who was right? Barack Obama or you?

6. How do you reconcile your defenses of deregulation
with the findings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry
Commission? It’s report concluded that “more than
thirty years of deregulation and reliance on self-
regulation by financial institutions, championed by
former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and
others, supported by successive administrations and
Congresses, and actively pushed by the powerful
financial industry at every turn, had stripped away key
safeguards, which could have helped avoid catastrophe.”

7. During George W. Bush’s presidency, you served as a
managing director of CitiGroup, which paid you more
than $1-million a year and gave you a $945,000 bonus
just days before you joined the Obama administration
(as a State Department appointee) in 2009.  Is it wise
to put a former banker in charge of a cabinet agency
that has quite a significant role to play in debates
about how the federal government might regulate, and
more generally relate to, banks that are sometimes
referred to as “too-big-to-fail”? As Treasury
Secretary, you will head the Financial Services
Oversight Council, a Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and
Consumer Protection Act creation that has the power to
“resolve”—i.e., dissolve—“financially-dangerous”
institutions such as “too-big-to-fail” banks. Watchdog
groups such as Public Citizen worry that you retain
“deep Wall Street connections.” Would your ties to
Citigroup prevent you from dissolving Citigroup and/or
similarly large financial institutions if they posed a
threat to the US economy?

8. It has been reported that, while at CitiGroup, you
oversaw a “unit that profited off the housing collapse
and financial crisis by investing in a hedge fund king
who correctly predicted the eventual sub-prime meltdown
and now finds himself involved in the center of the US
government’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs.” Should
we be concerned about that? In hindsight, do you think
your actions were appropriate? And can you assure the
American people that, after your government service,
you will not go back through the revolving door to work
for CitiGroup or some other big bank?

9. During the transition period between the George W.
Bush and Barack Obama presidencies, you are broadly
credited with helping to define the scope and character
of the new president’s stimulus legislation. Was the
stimulus sufficient? Should we invest in additional
stimulus spending?

10. Do you believe that investing in job-creation
initiatives, and other steps that grow the economy,
should be central to any deficit-reduction strategy?
Many European countries have focused on deficit
reduction as the highest priority, implementing harsh
austerity programs that accept high unemployment and
deep cuts in social services as a necessary consequence
of budget balancing.  Many Republicans in Congress
claim to embrace this approach, arguing that nothing is
more important that addressing deficits and debts.
What’s your take on austerity?

11. Eleven European countries, close allies and
frequent economic partners of the United States, are in
the process of developing and implementing financial
transaction taxes. These “Robin Hood” initiatives—which
impose small taxes on trades and speculation—are
designed not just to raise revenues but to control
against aggressive and irresponsible speculation. Your
predecessor, Timothy Geithner, resisted them. Was he
wrong? Should the United States implement a “Robin Hood
Tax,” as recommended by unions such as National Nurses
United and Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota?

12. You have spent a lifetime moving between government
and Wall Street. You have seen the intersect of money
and politics. You have seen how corporations can
influence the governing process. Do you think big banks
and corporations have too much influence over our
politics and our government? The president has
suggested that it is time to consider amending the
Constitution to limit the ability of banks and
corporations to buy elections and define the regulatory
agenda. Is he right?

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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