President Obama with Jacob Lew in the East Room of the White House in Washington… (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)
WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee voted Tuesday to confirm Jacob J. Lew as Treasury Secretary despite Republican concerns about his support for higher taxes to reduce the nation's debt as well as his tenure as a Citigroup Inc. executive before joining the Obama administration.
The 19-5 vote by the Senate Finance Committee moves the nomination of Lew, the former White House chief of staff, to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hoped to hold a confirmation vote by the end of the week.
Lew is expected to be confirmed, which would provide President Obama with a key lieutenant in negotiations with congressional Republicans as automatic budget cuts are set to start on Friday.
Lew played a similar role in the 1990s while serving as budget director in the Clinton administration.
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Some Republican senators had tough questions for Lew at his Feb. 13 confirmation hearing, focusing on his work at Citigroup in the years leading up to the financial crisis.
Lew was managing director and chief operating officer at Citi Global Wealth Management from 2006 to 2008 and at Citi Alternative Investments from 2008 to early 2009.
Lew said his job focused on broad management of the business and he was not involved in making decisions about investments at the company, which was hit hard by risky bets in the housing market and received one of the largest government bailouts.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said he voted against the nomination because of unsatisfactory answers from to written questions about salary and other compensation Lew received while at Citigroup and earlier, when he was executive vice president and chief operating officer at New York University.
"What we have seen so far is Mr. Lew was very good at getting paid by taxpayer-funded institutions," Grassley said. "If Mr. Lew will not answer our questions now, why should we on this committee expect him to answer any questions if he’s confirmed?"
Grassley was particularly concerned about a $1.4-million loan received while working at NYU. Grassley said Lew could not recall the interest rate or other terms of the loan.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the committee's top Republican, said Lew was "less than forthcoming" about his time at Citigroup and NYU.
"I do have serious reservations regarding Mr. Lew," Hatch said. "I like him personally very much. He certainly has a lot of experience in this town."
Hatch said he voted to confirm Lew because he believes the president "is owed a fair amount of deference in choosing people to work in his administration."