February 14, 2013

We often forget that the government we have for the people by the people is actually “of the people.” And when one of those people is Jack Lew, I know that he has his priorities right — putting poor and middle-class Americans first.

In a pretty unprecedented turn, the next Treasury secretary will not be a captain of industry or a longtime successful Wall Streeter. No, the next Treasury secretary is a man who has worked almost his entire professional career of 35 years, save for a two-year stint, in public service of one kind or another. A graduate of Harvard College, like much of the country’s elite, Lew perfected his values at a different Boston institution, the office of former House speaker Tip O’Neill, where I first met him.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images – Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday as he seeks to become the next Treasury secretary.

O’Neill was a great politician. He knew that government only worked if it helped people most in need and was supported by those who had the most to offer. But O’Neill wasn’t a traditional tax-and-spend liberal.  In fact, as speaker in the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan, he passed some of the most pro-growth and pro-business tax reform plans in the modern era. What Lew has done since those early years with O’Neill is not just laser-focus on the political compromises that get tax bills and budgets passed, but also maintain a keen understanding of the real impact of those policies on individual Americans.

The Republicans’ faux outrage that Lew invested some of his money — and he doesn’t seem to have very much of it — in a Cayman Islands fund is amusing.  It is supposed to be a huge “gotcha” because President Obama accused Mitt Romney of sheltering much of his fortune overseas.  Unfortunately, this argument backfires on Ed Rogers and the GOP, because Lew has actually advocated policies against his own interest, unlike the GOP.  Lew said in the hearings that he wanted to reform the tax code to push investment here in the United States, i.e., close the Cayman advantage.  His testimony yesterday was so impressive that it was even praised by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who started the hearing as a critic.  Sorry, Ed, you are going to have to find someone else to pick on — Jack Lew is pretty much the most upstanding guy in government.

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