WASHINGTON — Dogged by whopping federal deficits, President Obama reached into the Clinton administration Tuesday for a new budget director who helped produce balanced budgets and surpluses a decade ago.
Obama announced that he was nominating Jacob Lew as director of the Office of Management and Budget to replace outgoing chief Peter R. Orszag.
Lew, who held the post under former President Clinton, must be confirmed by the Senate. Lew's experience managing private investments could be a sticking point, but the White House downplayed that issue Tuesday. The administration expects him to be confirmed this fall.
Introducing him at the White House, Obama emphasized Lew's credentials in taming large federal deficits. He said Lew helped produce a $236-billion surplus by the end of Clinton's tenure in 2001 -- an achievement that should earn Lew a spot in "a hall of fame for budget directors," the president said.
"At a time when so many families are tightening their belts, he's going to make sure that the government continues to tighten its own," Obama said. "He's going to do this while making government more efficient, more responsive to the people it serves."
If confirmed, Lew will take over in an era of record-setting deficits. With three months of the fiscal year remaining, the deficit has already eclipsed $1 trillion, the Treasury Department said Tuesday.
Large deficits coupled with a high unemployment rate have eroded Obama's job approval ratings. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 56% of the people surveyed disapprove of the way Obama is handling the budget deficit, compared with 40% who approve.
Republicans used the announcement of a new budget director to draw attention to the nation's fiscal troubles.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) described Lew as "very thoughtful, very smart, very capable," then criticized Obama's policies.
"This administration is running up massive spending and massive debt, and it's really the job of the OMB director to say the emperor has no clothes," Gregg said. "This country does not have a policy which is going to lead us out of the disastrous fiscal situation."
A potential problem for Lew in his confirmation hearing is his tenure at Citigroup's Citi Alternative Investments, which manages private equity, hedge funds and real estate investments. At a briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Lew's work, given Obama's criticism of certain hedge funds.
Gibbs said Lew had been vetted before his appointment to the State Department, where he is a deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"I think those questions have been dealt with," Gibbs said.