WASHINGTON -- Only a few senators have publicly announced opposition to Jack Lew's nomination for Treasury secretary, and the staunchest resistance has come from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who criticized Lew's tenure at troubled Wall Street titan Citigroup during the financial crisis. But James Galbraith, a leading progressive economist, rejected Sanders' reasoning in an interview with HuffPost, defending Lew's tenure at the bank and his economic policy acumen.
"I knew Jack back in the days when he was a very young issues guy on [former House Speaker] Tip O'Neill's staff when ... Chris Matthews was his communications guy," Galbraith, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, told HuffPost. "I was on the Joint Economic Committee, and we worked very closely with him. I think very highly of Jack from that experience."
Galbraith's praise for Lew may defuse some of the progressive unrest over Lew's Wall Street experience, which has also been a flashpoint for conservative critics of the Obama administration's generally bank-friendly economic policy.
Lew was paid a $1.1 million salary and a $950,000 bonus for helming Citi's Alternative Investments unit, which suffered heavy losses after engaging in some of the bank's riskiest practices. Lew's role in those losses is unclear. He came to the unit after many of its most disastrous bets had already been placed.
Galbraith, one of the top progressive economists in the country, said it would be a mistake to equate Lew's tenure at Citi with obeisance to the financial sector.
"I don't fault him for that," Galbraith said, referring to Lew's Citi position. "He was offered a lucrative job that was a good holding tank while the Dems were out of office."
Lew currently serves as President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff and previously directed the Office of Management and Budget. The Senate confirmed Lew for the OMB position by voice vote in 2010, indicating broad support. Lew was the administration's chief negotiator with House Republicans during the 2011 debt ceiling standoff. Lew took tough positions during the talks and forced GOP negotiators to confront how specific cuts would affect retirees and the middle class, a strategy which frustrated Republicans, according to Bob Woodward's book The Price of Politics.
Related on HuffPost:
Served from: Jan. 26, 2009 to present Served under: President Barack Obama
Henry Paulson Jr.
Served from: July 10, 2006 - Jan. 20, 2009 Served under: President George W. Bush
Served from: Feb. 3, 2003 to June 29, 2006 Served under: President George W. Bush
Served from: Jan. 30, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2002 Served under: President George W. Bush
Served from: July 2, 1999 to Jan. 20, 2001 Served under: President Bill Clinton
Served from: Jan. 10, 1995 to July 2, 1999 Served under: President Bill Clinton
Served from: Jan. 22, 1993 to Dec. 22, 1994 Served under: President Bill Clinton
Served from: Sept. 16, 1988 to Jan. 17, 1993 Served under: Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
Served from: Feb. 3, 1985 to Aug. 17, 1988 Served under: President Ronald Reagan
Served from: Jan. 22, 1981 to Feb. 2, 1985 Served under: President Ronald Reagan
G. William Miller
Served from: Aug. 6, 1979 to Jan. 20, 1981 Served under: President Jimmy Carter
W. Michael Blumenthal
Served from: Jan. 23, 1977 to Aug. 4, 1979 Served under: President Jimmy Carter
William Simon (left)
Served from: May 8, 1974 to Jan. 20, 1977 Served under: Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford
George P. Shultz
Served from: June 12, 1972 to May 8, 1974 Served under: President Richard Nixon
John Connally (left)
Served from: Feb. 11, 1971 to June 12, 1972 Served under: President Richard Nixon
Served from: Jan. 22, 1969 to Feb. 11, 1971 Served under: President Richard Nixon
Served from: Dec. 21, 1968 to Jan. 20, 1969 Served under: President Lyndon B. Johnson
Served from: April 1, 1965 to Dec. 20, 1968 Served under: President Lyndon B. Johnson
C. Douglas Dillon
Served from: Jan. 21, 1961 to April 1, 1965 Served under: Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
Robert Anderson (right)
Served from: July 29, 1957 to Jan. 20, 1961 Served under: President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Served from: Jan. 21, 1953 to July 29, 1957 Served under: President Dwight D. Eisenhower
John Snyder (right)
Served from: June 25, 1946 to Jan. 20, 1953 Served under: President Harry S. Truman
Fred Vinson (center)
Served from: July 23, 1945 to June 23, 1946 Served under: President Harry S. Truman
Henry Morgenthau Jr.
Served from: Jan. 1, 1934 to July 22, 1945 Served under: Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman
William Woodin (left)
Served from: March 4, 1933 to Dec. 31, 1933 Served under: President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Ogden Mills (right)
Served from: Feb. 13, 1932 to March 3, 1933 Served under: President Herbert Hoover
Andrew W. Mellon (left)
Served from: March 4, 1921 to Feb. 12, 1932 Served under: Presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover