By Peter Schroeder - 02/21/13 12:26 AM EST
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wants to hold up the nomination of Jack Lew to be Treasury secretary until the nominee expands on several "unsatisfactory" answers.
In a statement, the Senate Finance Committee member said he was frustrated by Lew saying he could not recall details pertinent to Grassley's questions surrounding his time as an executive in the private sector in between the Clinton and Obama administrations.
"Mr. Lew has a lack of knowledge or a poor memory of some of the perks he received through his tenure at New York University and Citigroup," he said. "His lack of recall is distressing."
In a response to a written question submitted by Grassley, Lew said the school provided a mortgage forgiven in equal installments over five years, as well as an additional shared appreciation mortgage, but said he could not recall the specific terms of the agreement.
Grassley contended that while Lew was at the university, its endowment grew by nearly 60 percent to $1.7 billion, its tuition for student also jumped 40 percent, suggesting that Lew enjoyed sizable executive perks while students were swimming in debt.
"Mr. Lew’s boss, the President, continually expresses concern about college affordability, so it’s important to know whether Mr. Lew enjoyed financial perks as a university executive even as students weathered tuition increases and debt," Grassley said. "Universities are tax exempt to fulfill their mission of educating students, and executive compensation is part of the picture toward understanding how well universities fulfill their mission.”
Arguing that Lew failed to provide "adequate detail or the documents" to questions, Grassley said he was asking Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to hold off on voting on Lew's nomination until more details are given.
A spokesman for Baucus defended Lew, saying he was "answering every question posed to him in a timely manner."
"The confirmation process continues to move forward. All members are entitled to ask Mr. Lew follow up questions," the spokesman said. "And Senator Baucus has, and will continue to, listen to any concerns Members of the Committee may have."
The White House contends Lew has responded to every question posed to him, rebutting Grassley's claim he still had more to answer.
"Jack Lew has been fully responsive to this committee to an unprecedented degree," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
All told, Grassley submitted 26 questions to Lew in writing on a host of issues, ranging from his time in the private sector to his thoughts on various pending policy matters.
Lew's responses were largely not contentious, as he responded several times by either saying he did not recall information pertinent to particular questions, or would look forward to working with Grassley and others on the topic in question if confirmed.
A source close the committee process defended Lew, pointing out that he spent 3 and a half hours answering questions from senators during his confirmation hearing, and met privately with 41 different senators before that. He did not meet with Grassley, who declined to meet with him.
After his hearing, Lew then answered 444 questions in writing in responses that spanned 221 pages. By comparison, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson received 81 written questions following his confirmation hearing.
Earlier in February, Lew was pressed by GOP senators during his confirmation hearing, particularly on his time at Citigroup and a one-time investment in the Cayman Islands he had while at the bank. Lew claimed he was unaware the investment, which he ultimately sold at a loss after returning to government work, was based in the infamous tax haven nation, and no questions from the hearing appeared to derail his nomination. Lew has already been confirmed by the Senate several times in the past, serving as budget director under both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.
--This report was last updated on Feb. 21 at 7:42 a.m.