Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has already come out against Jack Lew’s nomination for Treasury secretary based on what Sessions calls “the most direct and important false assertion during my entire time in Washington.” He is referring to Lew’s testimony that the Obama budget “will get will get us, over the next several years, to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we’re not adding to the debt anymore; we’re spending money that we have each year, and then we can work on bringing down our national debt.” That just isn’t so, but Sessions should consider whether there are not other contenders for “the most direct and important false assertion.”
There was Lew’s out-and-out misstatement that the Republicans had prevented a budget from being passed in the Senate, which Lew claimed required 60 votes. That earned him four Pinocchios from my colleague Glenn Kessler.
Then there was his out-and-out falsehood that Social Security is “entirely self-financing.” No it’s not, as factcheck.org pointed out.
Let’s not forget when Lew gave the president an assist in earning four Pinnochios for falsely claiming Congress proposed the sequester:
[In the presidential debate] the president categorically said that sequestration was “something that Congress has proposed.”
[Bob] Woodward’s detailed account of meetings during the crisis, clearly based on interviews with key participants and contemporaneous notes, make it clear that sequestration was a proposal advanced and promoted by the White House.
In sum: Gene Sperling brought up the idea of a sequester, while Jack Lew sold Harry Reid on the idea and then decided to use the Gramm-Hollings-Rudman language (which he knew from his days of working for Tip O’Neill) as a template for sequester. The proposal was so unusual for Republicans that staffers had to work through the night to understand it.
Oddly, Lew in Tampa on Thursday, publicly asserted the opposite: “There was an insistence on the part of Republicans in Congress for there to be some automatic trigger…. [It] was very much rooted in the Republican congressional insistence that there be an automatic measure at the end.”
This prompted Woodward to go over his notes and interviews once again, to make sure he had gotten it right.
“After reviewing all the interviews and the extensive material I have on this issue, it looks like President Obama told a whopper,” Woodward said. “Based on what Jack Lew said in Florida today, I have asked the White House to correct the record.”
We had been wavering between Three and Four Pinocchios. But in light of Lew’s decision to double down on Obama’s claim, we agree it’s a whopper.
These are big, honking, multiple, not-even-close-to-the-truth misrepresentations. In contrast to a White House staffer (who also shouldn’t lie, but we assume they do from time to time) the Treasury Secretary has always been thought to be a cut above spinning facts. Unfortunately this seems to be what Lew does, repeatedly and egregiously. He has been too eager to bend and break the truth on behalf of his boss, creating distrust among members of Congress. He sacrificed honest numbers and statements for the less-than-honest political shilling that Obama demands of his confidantes.
It is not only a matter of personal integrity, but it also goes to how markets, investors, businesses and Congress perceive what he says. You just can’t have this sort of thing in a Treasury secretary. Think of some of the people who have held that job in recent years (e.g. James Baker, George Shultz, William Simon, Lloyd Bentsen, Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson). Whatever their policy perspectives or errors, they were honorable men whose word (if not our currency) was always good as gold. You can’t say that about Lew.
In short, Sessions might not be right. There is lengthy of competition for “the most direct and important misrepresentation.” Strangely, though, they all come from Lew.