The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee will lead a charge to try to block White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew's prospective nomination to become Treasury secretary.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said Mr. Lew blatantly misled Congress about administration plans to reduce the national debt and "must never be secretary of Treasury."
Two years ago, while serving as Mr. Obama's budget director, Mr. Lew told Congress that the president's budget, which he had crafted, would not add to the national debt.
"Our budget will get us, over the next several years, to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore; we're spending money that we have each year, and then we can work on bringing down our national debt," Mr. Lew said in 2011.
To Mr. Sessions, the claim is so "outrageous and false" that it alone should disqualify Mr. Lew from the key Cabinet post.
"To look the American people in the eye and make such a statement remains the most direct and important false assertion during my entire time in Washington," the Alabama Republican said.
Mr. Obama is expected to nominate Mr. Lew to replace outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner this week. The Senate Finance Committee will hold the hearings, so Mr. Sessions will not have a chance to grill Mr. Lew directly. Instead, he plans to voice his deep concerns about the nomination, if and when it hits the floor, according to Senate GOP aides.
The long-expected move would force Mr. Obama to find a new chief of staff, which would be the first part of a major reshuffling of the White House staff.
Mr. Geithner has indicated he would like to leave Treasury before the end of this month — well before the expected showdown with Congress over a new increase in the federal borrowing limit. Mr. Lew twice headed the White House's Office of Management and Budget — once under President Clinton and from 2010 to 2012 under Mr. Obama — and played a central role in the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations.
Despite a host of new fiscal deadlines early this year, the White House has yet to officially name a Geithner successor — and presidential spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that he had no announcements to make on personnel matters.
"I am sure that when the president nominates a successor to Secretary Geithner, he will look forward to speedy consideration by the Senate," Mr. Carney said. "But I don't have a timetable for that."
The timing of the Treasury nomination is important because Mr. Lew is expected to play a key role in several upcoming budget debates. Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling by late February or early March or face defaulting on its debts.
The Treasury Department announced that the nation had hit the $16.4 trillion debt limit at the end of the year, prompting the department to begin taking measures to buy time and keep the government solvent.
Brinksmanship over the last debt-ceiling debate in 2011 led to a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating.
Earlier this week, Mr. Carney also argued that the downgrade led to a higher jobless rate for August 2011, when the showdown took place, and lower stock prices. That month, he said, was the highest jobless rate since the fiscal crisis of 2008.
Undaunted, Republicans are gearing up for a major battle over the debt ceiling as a way to extract agreements on long-term spending cuts from Democrats.
Congress and the Obama administration also face another deadline for budget cuts. The "fiscal cliff" deal only served to delay across-the-board spending cuts to defense and domestic programs by two months.
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