WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Thursday announced the nomination of White House Chief of Staff Jacob J. Lew to be Treasury secretary, touting his lengthy resume as preparation for upcoming budget battles and saying he "has my complete trust."
Lew, 57, known as Jack, would succeed Timothy F. Geithner, who is stepping down after four years.
In a ceremony in the White House East Room, Obama praised Geithner's work in helping stabilize the economy and said Lew, a former White House budget director, was the best person to take over.
"Jack has the distinction of having worked and succeeded in some of the toughest jobs in Washington and the private sector," Obama said, noting Lew's work as a top aide to former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill and as budget director in the Clinton administration.
"As a congressional staffer in the 1980s, he helped negotiate the deal between President Reagan and Tip O'Neill to save Social Security. Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row," Obama said.
"So for all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it three times," said Obama, flanked by Lew and Geithner.
Obama said one reason for Lew's effectiveness in Washington was that "he is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras."
"Over the years he's built a reputation as a master of policy who can work with members of both parties and forge principled compromises," Obama said. "Jack has my complete trust. I know I'm not alone in that."
Lew said he dreamed of "making a difference in the world" as a child growing up in Queens, N.Y., and said he was honored to serve in the Obama administration.
"It's really been a privilege to come to work every day as part of a team that's dedicated to building a sound economy and a safer world," Lew said.
Lew then joked about his unusual signature, images of which spread across the Internet on Wednesday with word of his impending nomination. If confirmed as Treasury secretary, Lew's signature -- an illegible scrawl of curlicues -- would appear on all paper currency.
Lew told Geithner that "it was only yesterday that I discovered that we both share a common challenge with penmanship." Geithner has said he had to improve his own signature to make it readable on the currency.
Obama joked that before Wednesday he had never noticed Lew's signature and considered ditching the nomination after seeing it.
"Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency should he be confirmed as secretary of the Treasury," Obama said.
The Senate is expected to confirm Lew as Treasury secretary after already having confirmed him as budget director in 2010. But some Republicans already are raising concerns that Lew's nomination signals Obama will be unwilling to agree to more deficit reduction.
“As the country struggles with a painfully slow economic recovery, Washington needs leaders who are willing to support reforms that will put us on a sustainable fiscal path,” said Sen Mike Lee (R-Utah). “Unfortunately, the nomination of Jack Lew as secretary of Treasury signals that the president will continue to pursue the same failed policies of the previous four years: higher taxes, more spending and more debt."
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Lew was responsible for "two of the worst budgets in American history" under Obama. And Lew's promises to the Senate Budget Committee less than two years ago that Obama's budget would not add to the deficit were enough to disqualify him for the job.
"Jack Lew must never be secretary of the Treasury," Sessions said.
But Rob Nichols, head of the Financial Services Forum, which represents large financial institutions, said Lew was well-suited for the job.
In addition to his Washington experience, Lew was as an executive at Citigroup Inc. from 2006 to 2009.
“Mr. Lew understands the important role the financial sector plays in our economy, as well as our continued economic recovery," Nichols said.