Biography of Jacob J. Lew, Former Secretary of the Treasury

The 76th person to hold the post, he served under President Obama

Jacob J. Lew

 Chip Somodevilla / Staff / Getty Images

Jacob Joseph "Jack" Lew (born Aug. 29, 1955) served as the 76th United States secretary of the treasury from 2013 to 2017. Nominated by President Barak Obama on Jan. 10, 2013, Lew was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 27, 2013, and sworn in the next day to replace the retiring Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Before his service as treasury secretary, Lew served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in both administrations of Obama and former President Bill Clinton. Lew was replaced as secretary of the treasury on Feb.13, 2017, by President Donald Trump’s nominee ​Steven Mnuchin, a banker and former hedge fund manager.

Fast Facts: Jacob J. "Jack" Lew

  • Known For: 76th U.S. Treasury Secretary under former President Barak Obama, also served as chief of staff under Obama and director of the Office of Management and Budget under both Obama and former President Bill Clinton
  • Also Known As: Jacob Joseph. "Jack" Lew
  • Born: Aug. 29, 1955, in New York City
  • Parents: Ruth Turoff and Irving Lew
  • Education: Harvard University (BA, 1978), Georgetown University (JD, 1983)
  • Awards and Honors: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (Georgetown University, 2014)
  • Spouse: Ruth Schwartz
  • Children: Shoshana, Isaac
  • Notable Quotes: "The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations." "In my last tour of duty here in the 1990s, we made the tough, bipartisan decisions needed to bring our budget into surplus. Once again, it will take tough choices to put us on a sustainable fiscal path."

Early Life and Education

Lew was born on Aug. 29, 1955, in New York City to Irving Lew, a lawyer and rare book dealer, and Ruth Turoff. Lew attended New York City public schools, graduating from Forest Hill High School, where he met his future wife, Ruth Schwartz. After attending Carleton College in Minnesota, Lew graduated from Harvard University in 1978 and from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1983.

Government Career

While involved in the federal government for nearly 40 years, Lew has never held an elected position. At just 19, Lew worked as a legislative aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.) from 1974 to 1975. After working for Rep. Moakley, Lew worked as a senior policy adviser to famed Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill. As an adviser to O'Neill, Lew served as executive director of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Lew also served as O'Neill's liaison to the 1983 Greenspan Commission, which successfully negotiated a bipartisan legislative solution extending the solvency of the Social Security program. In addition, Lew assisted O'Neill with economic issues, including Medicare, federal budget, tax, trade, spending and appropriations, and energy issues.

Under the Clinton Administration

From 1998 to 2001, Lew served as director of the Office of Management and Budget, a Cabinet-level position under President Bill Clinton. At OMB, Lew headed up the Clinton administration's budget team and as a member of the National Security Council. During Lew's three years as head of the OMB, the U.S. budget actually operated at a surplus for the first time since 1969. Since 2002, the budget has suffered an ever-increasing deficit.

Under President Clinton, Lew was also helped design and implement the national service program, Americorps.

Between Clinton and Obama

Following the end of the Clinton administration, Lew served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York University. While at NYU, he taught public administration and handled the university's budget and finances. After leaving NYU in 2006, Lew went to work for Citigroup, serving as managing director and chief operating officer for two of the banking giant's business units.

From 2004 through 2008, Lew also served on the board of directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service, chairing its Management, Administration, and Governance Committee.

Under the Obama Administration

Lew first joined the Obama administration in 2010 as deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. In November 2010, he was confirmed by the Senate as director of the Office of Management and Budget, the same office he held under President Clinton from 1998 to 2001.
On Jan. 9, 2012, President Obama selected Lew as his White House chief of staff. During his time as chief of staff, Lew acted as a key negotiator between Obama and Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner in attempts to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," the $85-billion forced budget sequestration and tax increases for wealthy Americans.

In a 2012 article written for the Huffington Post, Lew explained the Obama administration's plan for reducing the U.S. deficit as including: cutting $78 billion from the Department of Defense budget, raising the income tax rate for the top 2 percent of income earners to what they were during the Clinton administration, and reducing the federal tax rate on corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent. "In my last tour of duty here in the 1990s, we made the tough, bipartisan decisions needed to bring our budget into surplus," wrote Lew. "Once again, it will take tough choices to put us on a sustainable fiscal path."

After Washington

After Lew's service in Washington, he returned to Wall Street to join a private equity firm. He is also a much-sought-after commentator on news cable channels, such as MSNBC, on issues ranging from the state of the economy to economic relations with China.

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