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U.S. Senate Panel Backs Lew for Treasury Secretary

Jack Lew's nomination for Treasury Secretary cleared the Senate Finance Committee yesterday, clearing the way for a full senate vote on his confirmation.

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday backed President Barack Obama's nominee to head the U.S. Treasury, Jack Lew, despite some concerns about his perks from previous employers, clearing the way for a confirmation vote in the full Senate.

With the 19-5 vote, about half of the panel's 11 Republicans opposed Lew's nomination, which could be brought to the Senate floor for a final vote as early as Wednesday. Five Republicans on the committee also voted against Timothy Geithner, the previous Treasury secretary, who left last month.

Some Republicans hold deep reservations about the nomination and it is unclear whether they will throw up procedural hurdles to the vote. Nevertheless, Lew is expected eventually to win confirmation in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 53-45 majority.

Senate approval would pitch Lew into the heated budget battle between the White House and congressional Republicans. Both sides oppose the estimated $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts set to take effect on Friday, but disagree about alternatives.

Previously Obama's chief of staff and budget director for both Obama and former President Bill Clinton, Lew is a policy wonk who has spent much of his career in public service in Washington. But some observers have questioned his financial expertise and international credentials.

'NOT ANOTHER ACOLYTE'

The top Republican on the Finance Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch, said he supports Lew as head of the Treasury Department in deference to Obama, but has "serious reservations" about him.

"I hope we end up with the Jack Lew of the Clinton administration, not just another acolyte of the Obama White House," he said before the panel vote.

At a hearing on his nomination earlier this month, Republicans also grilled Lew about an investment he once held in a fund linked to the Cayman Islands and a nearly $1 million dollar bonus he received from Citigroup in 2009 just before the bank got a taxpayer-funded bailout.

In addition, Senator Charles Grassley, the No. 2 Republican on the Finance Committee, said he was unsatisfied with Lew's response to questions about several million dollars in loans he received while working as an executive with New York University.

"If Mr. Lew will not answer our questions now, why should we on this committee expect him to answer any questions if he's confirmed?" Grassley said before voting against Lew.

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