WASHINGTON – White House chief of staff Jack Lew is President Barack Obama's expected pick to lead the Treasury Department, with an announcement possible before the end of the week, as the administration moves to fill the most critical jobs in the Cabinet.
White House officials would not confirm that a final decision had been made. But aides did not dispute that Lew is emerging as the consensus choice.
Lew would bring to the Treasury Department a wide range of experiences in both the public and private sector. He has spent much of his career mastering the mechanics of the federal budget, including two stints at the helm of the Office of Management and Budget, once under Obama and also under former President Bill Clinton.
That background could help shape the Obama administration's strategy in its forthcoming talks with congressional Republicans over the federal debt ceiling. Republicans are expected to demand deep budget cuts as the price of agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. The federal debt limit is expected to be tapped out sometime in February.
Obama is about to begin his second term in office with new secretaries of state, defense and treasury. He has nominated Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton at State and former Sen. Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon. He also has proposed John Brennan as the new CIA director.
The 57-year-old Lew would also bring private sector and international experience to Treasury Department. He has held top jobs at Citigroup's wealth management branch and at the State Department, where he oversaw international economic issues in his first job for Obama.
A person familiar with the selection process said that experience was particularly important to the president, given the treasury secretary's key role in coordinating with European allies on the continent's debt crisis, among other global financial matters.
Lew, an observant Jew who doesn't work on Saturday, is well-liked in Washington by both Democrats and Republicans, and well-respected by staffers at the White House, where he has served as chief of staff since January 2012.
A pragmatic liberal, Lew has also been a key player in several negotiations between the White House and Capitol Hill, including the recent talks to avert the "fiscal cliff."
If confirmed by the Senate, Lew would replace current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who plans to leave around Obama's Jan. 21 inauguration. He is expected to be easily confirmed by the Democratic-led Senate.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the expected nomination ahead of the president.
A fresh series of economic deadlines would await Lew at the Treasury Department. The first will be the need, around the end of February, to raise the $16.4 trillion federal borrowing limit to avert a first-ever default by the government. That deadline will likely trigger a confrontation with congressional Republicans over spending cuts.
At the beginning of March, $110 billion in cuts to military and domestic programs will automatically kick in if no congressional budget deal has been reached by then. Congress and the administration postponed that issue in the fiscal cliff agreement that received final congressional passage on New Year's Day.
The third pressing deadline will occur March 27. That's when a congressional resolution that's keeping the government operating without a budget will expire. Without a new bill, the government would shut down.
Lew's immersion in the minutiae of federal budgets contrasts with the experience of most previous Treasury secretaries. Many arrived from high-level posts on Wall Street, where they presided over securities trading and investment banking. Obama's choice of Lew is seen as a signal of the president's determination to control record-breaking budget deficits during his second term.
"I think Wall Street would have preferred someone with more financial market specialization, but Lew is being brought in because he knows the budget," said David Wyss, a former chief economist at Standard & Poor's. "Clearly, Obama has decided that his priority in a second term will be the budget."
Lew's nomination would also signal Obama's intent to keep Treasury close to the White House sphere as Obama engages with Congress on fiscal issues and as the administration continues to implement key aspects of the financial regulation overhaul that Geithner helped shepherd into law in 2010.
Lew's nomination would also have a domino effect at the White House, creating a vacancy for his chief of staff post that could be filled internally.