WASHINGTON - President Obama's decision to name Jacob Lew, his chief of staff and former budget director, to be his Treasury secretary sent a depressing signal that the economy and jobs won't be his highest priority in a second term.
With unemployment remaining stubbornly high in the fifth year of his presidency, the job of Treasury secretary cries out for a hard- driving, corporate chief executive with strong economic credentials.
Instead, Obama intends to pick Lew who has reigned over his big spending budgets (and five consecutive trillion dollar deficits), and more recently has run the West Wing operation as its manager in chief. The intricate details of economic policy and growth economics are not part of his portfolio.
"The selection signals that Obama's second term will not initially focus on big new ideas to create jobs," the Washington Post declared Thursday in a front page story on the president's decision to tap his liberal political soul-mate and fellow law school graduate.
If you are among the more than 12 million unemployed, or the millions more who have been forced to take a low-paying part-time job because you couldn't find good, full-time employment, this is hopeless news indeed.
Lew, a former top aide to Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill in the 1980s, has been the Obama administration's chief defender of its wildly out-of-control big spending policies. And he will play a pivotal role in the fiscal battles to come over the debt ceiling increase and budget policies that will dominate Congress's agenda over the next three months or more.
Obama's decision sadly speaks volumes about where jobs and the economy fit into his second term agenda -- on the middle-to-back burner. He hasn't been talking much about either of late, and there's no sign he intends to offer another plan to get a slowing economy moving again.
Can he get away with that? Apparently he can and thus far he has, with not a peep out of the national news media that has shamelessly covered for him, despite four painful years of an anemic economy (barely crawling along at a 2 percent growth rate) and unemployment skirting 8 percent or more.
Take, for example, last week's jobs report for the month of December from the Labor Department which reported that employment rose by 155,000, though the jobless rate remained stuck at 7.8 percent.
That's because Americans who could not find a full-time job said they stopped looking for work and thus were subtracted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the ranks of the unemployed.