By Peter Schroeder - 02/13/13 03:31 PM EST
Jack Lew, the president's nominee to head the Treasury Department, touted his lengthy bipartisan deal-making credentials Wednesday in opening testimony before the Senate Finance Committee.
"Forging bipartisan consensus is not an abstract idea for me," he said, according to prepared testimony. "It is the fundamental thread that spans my professional life.
"Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas," he added.
Lew cited his previous work in Congress and the administration, such as an adviser to former Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.) when he hammered out a compromise on Social Security with President Reagan. He also noted that he oversaw a run of budget surpluses as budget director under President Clinton and helped hammer out the summer 2011 deal to raise the debt limit and begin tackling the deficit.
Of course, that deal, the Budget Control Act, also lay the seeds for the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, which are set to take effect on March 1. Lew said those cuts would "impose self-inflicted wounds" on the economy and must not be allowed to take effect.
With the two parties continuing to square off over a host of fiscal issues, Lew sought to strike a rare optimistic note on what could be achieved in modern Washington.
"In recent years, some have argued that Washington is irrevocably broken. That our government cannot tackle the nation's most serious problems. That bipartisanship is a thing of the past," he said. "I disagree … I can honestly say that the things that divide Washington right now are not as insurmountable as they might look."
Between heading budget offices for Presidents Clinton and Obama, Lew spent time as a chief operating officer at Citigroup. Republicans have raised concerns about his role at the bank, which ultimately required billions in bailout funds, as well as his compensation there, which included an investment in a fund based in the Cayman Islands.
But in his opening remarks, Lew summarizes that time in one sentence, saying he was "part of the senior management team trying to drive organizational change."