WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew deflected Republican critiques of his personal finances Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing, moving one step closer to his expected confirmation.
Republicans peppered Lew, appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, with questions about his time as Chief Operating Officer of Citigroup, where he received a $940,000 bonus after leaving in 2008.
“I was compensated in a manner consistent with other people who did the kind of work that I did in the industry, and I was compensated for my work,” Lew said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, criticized Lew for an investment he once made in a Citigroup fund registered in the Cayman Islands. Grassley claimed it was “a hypocrisy” because the administration has spoken out in the past against overseas tax havens.
“I lost money on the investment,” Lew said, insisting that he did not profit from offshore tax loopholes.
The White House has defended Lew’s actions on financial matters. Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday he has “no concerns” regarding Lew’s confirmation.
Others lashed out at Lew for furthering the country’s spending problem and embracing a “massive new wave of regulations,” as well as playing a part in the administration’s response to the Benghazi consulate attack last September, which Republicans have continued to criticize in weighing Cabinet nominees.
Lew was reluctant to use the phrase “tax increase” while answering questions from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on proposals to eliminate tax breaks for American oil and gas companies, many of which are based in the Lone Star State.
President Barack Obama tapped Lew to replace Timothy Geithner, who resigned from the top economic post last month. Lew previously served as White House budget director under Obama and former President Bill Clinton, and was recently Obama’s chief of staff.
“Because of my experience, I approach the challenges that lie ahead with a clear understanding of their complexity and significance,” Lew said in his opening statement.
Lew was well-received by the committee beyond the sporadic critiques from a handful of Republicans.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., finance committee chairman, opened the hearing with praise for Lew, touting his experience in the public and private sector. In addition to Citigroup, Lew previously was a vice president at New York University.
Former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. formally introduced the nominee and called Lew a bipartisan dealmaker who can effectively shepherd the economy though continued economic recovery.
“There is no straighter shooter than Jack Lew,” Schumer said.
Later in the hearing Lew laid out some of the policies he would pursue if appointed to the post.
The nominee said he would work to foster private sector job creation and pledged to push back against Chinese currency manipulation. Lew embraced continued economic sanctions against Iran, which he said were effectively crippling the regime.
Hill lawmakers are still trying to forge a deal to avoid massive budget cuts, known as sequestration, from automatically kicking in March 1. Lew played a key role in the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations that ultimately put sequestration in place.
Obama wants a deal containing both spending cuts and new revenues through tax reform. Republicans have pushed back against the idea of raising taxes and some in the caucus have floated the idea of letting the $1.2 trillion across-the-board cuts go into effect.
“These cuts would impose self-inflicted wounds to the recovery and put far too many jobs and businesses at risk,” Lew said, calling on Congress to quickly pass a deal.
Political analysts expect the committee to support Lew’s nomination, arguing that he will have little trouble getting confirmed by the full Senate with bipartisan support.
That analysis appeared accurate in the hearing’s waning moments.
“Frankly, I think you’ve done really well today, and I have a great deal of respect for you,” Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Lew. “I have nothing but respect for people like you who give yourself to your government.”