Obama announces his nomination of Jack Lew
Obama announces his nomination of Jack LewReuters

U.S. President Barack Obama officially picked Jack Lew as his new Treasury secretary Thursday and called on the Senate to confirm him as quickly as possible, so he can press on with the work of reviving the economy.

Lew, Obama's current chief of staff, is slated to take over from Tim Geithner.

"I cannot think of a better person to continue Tim's work at Treasury than Jack Lew," AFP quoted Obama as having said in a White House event.

"Jack knows that every number on a page, every dollar we budget, every decision we make, has to be an expression of who we wish to be as a nation.

"So, I hope the Senate will confirm him as quickly as possible," Obama said, though almost as soon as he spoke, his Republican opponents ratcheted up a campaign of opposition against his new nominee.

Lew, 57, has multiple tours of duty across the government, including two as budget director, for former president Bill Clinton and Obama, and a spell as deputy secretary of state.

He is an observant Jew who attends Congregation Beth Sholom in Potomac, Maryland. 

When asked about how he would be able to balance his religious beliefs and the high profile job of being in the President's cabinet, Lew aid that having already worked with Obama as his Chief of Staff, he knows that the President is very respectful of his faith.

He quipped that there were many times when he served as Obama's Chief of Staff and the two were discussing something on a Friday, Obama would look at his watch and ask, "Isn't it time for you to go?"

Lew's selection symbolically hit the start button on a new showdown between Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill, just over a week after the end of the "fiscal cliff" tax and spending tussle.

Lew will be charged with the job of persuading Republican lawmakers to raise the U.S. government's debt ceiling from its current $16 trillion level to stave off the prospect of a disastrous government default.

He will also be in charge of another row over billions of dollars in automatic government spending cuts now due at the end of February after being delayed for two months in the fiscal cliff compromise.

Lew will still likely have an easier confirmation process than other second term nominees like Chuck Hagel, Obama's pick to head the Pentagon.

"Jack has my complete trust ... in the words of one former senator, having Lew on your team is the equivalent as a coach of having the luxury of putting somebody at almost every position and knowing he will do well," Obama said.

Obama emphasized the success that Lew had in turning deficits into budget surpluses during the Clinton administration, but Republicans immediately focused on the more challenging time he had as this president's budget director.

"Under Jack Lew's leadership at the Office of Management and Budget, we saw trillion dollar deficits and no serious attempt to rein in spending," said Republican Senator John Cornyn, according to AFP.

"As president Obama's chief of staff, we've seen on-going dilatory tactics as the nation stares down one fiscal crisis after another."

Fellow Republican Jeff Sessions also hit out at Lew's record, saying, according to AFP, "I believe this man has been the architect of the Obama budget policy. I believe it's very fundamentally wrong and I do not believe he has been honest with the American people about it."