WASHINGTON - The US Senate on Wednesday confirmed Jack Lew as President Barack Obama's new Treasury secretary, putting the former White House chief of staff in the middle of a bitter political fight over the government's budget.
Senators backed Lew with a 71-26 vote. All of the chamber's 53 Democrats voted for him. Some Republicans had expressed misgivings about Lew's perks from previous employers Citigroup and New York University.
Lew is the first Orthodox Jewish secretary of US Treasury. He has close ties with Jewish leaders in Washington and campaigned for Obama among the Jewish community during the 2012 campaign.
Lew's most pressing task will be to find a compromise to lessen the economic blow from $85 billion in government spending cuts that are set to kick in on Friday.
But two more budget deadlines will quickly follow. Funds for most government operations expire on March 27, and the national debt will hit the US government's borrowing limit on May 19, setting the stage for a default unless an agreement can be secured to raise the ceiling again.
Lew, who served as Obama's chief of staff before the president named him to succeed Timothy Geithner at the Treasury, has spent much of his career in Washington in public service.
He was previously White House budget director under both Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
By choosing him for the administration's top economic post, Obama signaled the importance he places on Washington's budget battles.
Now that he is confirmed, Lew is expected take the lead on difficult negotiations with Congress on how to trim US budget deficits and keep a lid on $16.6 trillion US national debt.
"If confirmed, we'll be entrusting Mr. Lew to oversee America's economic policy," said Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee that vetted Lew for the job. "It is a great responsibility, one I believe Mr. Lew will live up to."
Hilart Leila Krieger contributed to this report.
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