The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved Jack Lew as the nation’s next secretary of the Treasury amid a bruising confirmation process that delved into his years as a Wall Street executive and a million-dollar payout he received from a bailed-out bank.
The final vote in this first hurdle before full approval by the Senate was 19-5, with five Republicans — Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas — casting the dissenting votes.
The Treasury post marks the third time Mr. Lew has faced Senate confirmation since President Obama took office, but it was the first time lawmakers expressed much interest in exploring Mr. Lew’s years in the private sector after working as budget chief in the Clinton administration.
Mr. Grassley made clear his intention to vote against Mr. Lew, citing what he called the nominee’s “eagerness and skill” in pursuing bonuses from taxpayer-supported institutions.
“I am concerned by the attitude of this administration and its supporters who criticize the Senate, usually anonymously, for exercising basic due diligence regarding this nominee,” Mr. Grassley said. “They don’t like anyone questioning them, and they don’t like answering questions.
“Despite their tactics, we must continue to perform the Senate’s vital role of advice and consent regarding nominees,” he said, adding that Mr. Lew was “very good at getting paid by taxpayer-supported institutions.”
Mr. Cornyn said he opposed the nomination because Mr. Lew would not firmly commit to reducing government spending and could not guarantee the administration would provide a statutorily required blueprint for reforming Medicare.
But Democrats and some Republicans backed Mr. Lew. Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and committee chairman, said it was important to have Mr. Lew in the Treasury job at a time when the federal government is preparing for across-the-board spending cuts due to sequestration. And recounting talks with constituents during recent trip to his home state, Mr. Baucus said Americans were tired of being “jerked around” from one crisis to another in Washington.
Despite the wide margin of the vote, the hearing gave Republicans another chance to air concerns about Mr. Lew that they had hardly touched during his previous confirmation hearings when he was being vetted for posts as a deputy in the State Department and later as Mr. Obama’s budget chief.
The Washington Times first reported when Mr. Lew was joining the State Department that Citigroup Inc. had paid him a bonus of nearly $1 million in 2009 even as the bank was about to receive a big taxpayer bailout. The money was paid to Mr. Lew about two weeks before he joined the State Department as deputy secretary of state. The payout came on top of an already hefty $1.1 million Citigroup compensation package for 2008 that he previously had reported.
The New York Times raised new questions, too, about what it called an unusual bonus when he previously worked as executive vice president for operations at New York University.
Still, Mr. Lew’s confirmation, which now heads to a full Senate vote, never seemed in doubt. He had picked up some Republican support, including the tepid backing of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the committee’s ranking member.
While Mr. Hatch said he didn’t think Mr. Lew was forthcoming about his time at Citigroup, he thought Mr. Obama had the right to choose his own nominee.
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