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.