Tough Questions for Lew
He’ll probably be confirmed, but he needs to be confronted too.

White House chief of staff Jack Lew


Andrew Stiles

Republicans may be unable to prevent Jack Lew, the current White House chief of staff, from becoming the next Treasury secretary, but some are hopeful that, by highlighting concerns over his nomination, they can score what amounts to an important victory in Washington these days: shaming the White House into following the law.

GOP lawmakers are currently seeking information about Lew’s role in the Obama administration’s continued violation of federal law regarding the so-called Medicare trigger. Beginning in 2007, the Medicare trustees’ annual report has included a “funding warning,” essentially a determination that immediate action is necessary to shore up the program’s solvency.

By law, the administration is required to submit legislation to address the trustees’ concerns within 15 days of submitting a budget proposal. President George W. Bush fulfilled this requirement in 2008, although Congress never acted upon his proposal. President Obama has not once bothered to submit such a proposal, which would require significant reforms to the popular entitlement program.

On Tuesday, eight GOP senators sent a letter to the White House requesting documents relating to the Medicare trigger, and Lew’s role, as White House budget director, in failing to comply with the law. If confirmed as Treasury secretary, the senators note in the letter, Lew would also become chairman of the board of the Medicare trustees.

“Given that the Secretary of the Treasury will be responsible for issuing Medicare funding warnings and will serve as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Medicare Trust Funds, we need a better understanding of the administration’s decision not to comply with Medicare law and Mr. Lew’s role in that decision,” they write.

The senators also asked for a detailed legislative proposal from the White House in response to the most recent Medicare-funding warning, a request that, if ignored, could serve as the primary justification for blocking, or at least delaying, Lew’s confirmation. By raising the issue, Republicans hope they can, in the words of one GOP Senate aide, “shame the president into following the law.”

“That in and of itself would be a huge victory, because the White House desperately doesn’t want to comply with the Medicare trigger,” another GOP Senate aide says. “If they did, they’d only have two options: actually make reforms, or send over a plan exposing the reality that they are perfectly content to let Medicare go bankrupt.”