Today’s Senate hearing on the confirmation of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary isn’t attracting as much attention as those of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan. Nor is it likely that Republicans will have any more success in derailing his nomination than they did with the president’s national security picks. Nevertheless, the proceedings will afford Republicans plenty of opportunities to skewer both the Obama administration’s economic policies as well as give the nominee a hard time about his time leading a financial institution that got bailed out by the government after the 2008 fiscal meltdown. But the real focus on Lew today ought not to be on the slim chance that he will slip up in a way that will delay his confirmation. Rather, senators and the public should be zeroing in on the ominous similarity between something Lew said under oath in 2010 when he was White House Budget Director and a key point in the president’s State of the Union address last night.
Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in 2010, Lew pledged that the budget the president had put forward as an alternative to Republican plans “would not add to the debt.” If that sounds familiar this morning, it should. Last night during the SOTU, President Obama presented another laundry list of liberal projects that he said Congress must enact into law. But, he added, no one should worry about the cost since the left-wing wish list of “investments” would add “not a single dime” to the nation’s debt. Unfortunately for the president, a hard look at the facts about Lew’s testimony makes the president’s current pledge look like just another politician’s fib.
Senator Jeff Sessions hasn’t let go of his anger about Lew’s 2010 debt promise and has even vowed to attempt to filibuster his nomination because of what he says was an outright lie under oath to Congress. It doesn’t look as if many of his colleagues will join him in that endeavor so Lew’s confirmation isn’t in much doubt. But as he wrote last month in National Review, Sessions is right on target when he points out just how egregious Lew’s lie about the Obama budget and the debt really was. Far from being deficit neutral, the budget proposal that Lew tried to sell to Congress would have added $13 trillion to the national debt by the figures provided by the White House. Many senators, especially Democrats, are probably inclined to give Lew a pass for the fib rather than agree with Sessions’ characterization of it as a “campaign of financial deception,” But there’s no denying that Lew was blowing smoke about expenditures that almost always turn out to be far higher than originally promised.
Combined with his role in the 2008 disaster as head of Citigroup, that’s the sort of lie that ought to worry Americans who were told last night by the president that the economy was in pretty good shape and getting better even if unemployment remains high. But more to the point, it ought to serve as a red flag to anyone inclined to take the president’s “not one dime” promise seriously.
If politicians, even the one who just won re-election as president, wonder why Americans are increasingly cynical about politics, they can look no further than the Kabuki dance the Obama administration has been enacting for the past few years about the debt. Republicans need to be more than the party of austerity if they are ever to take back the White House. But if Democrats think they can go on lying about the deficit or the need to enact far reaching reforms of entitlements they are mistaken. While fibs about spending are a time-honored Washington tradition, no one should be under the impression that these kinds of lies about the debt crisis will be tolerated indefinitely.