Appearing on four Sunday news shows, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew addressed questions on the overall state of the economy, the impending debt ceiling debate, and the president’s comments on Washington’s attention to “phony scandals.”
President Barack Obama has spent much of the last week focusing on jobs and the economy, embarking on a series of summer speeches to “introduce new economic ideas” and aiming his weekly address at the same topic.
Laying out statistics that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Fox News’ Chris Wallace noted, “for all this talk about equality, the middle class has fallen behind under President Obama.”
“So Chris, you’ve just made a case as to why the things the president was talking about this week are so important,” Lew said. “We need to focus together, in a bipartisan way on the things we can do to help America’s middle class.”
“The truth is, the core of our economy is strong, it’s resilient and we’ve been growing,” Lew told “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve been growing for forty months. … It’s not fast enough we want to do everything we can to speed the pace of economic growth and job creation, that means we have to address the issues that the president laid out this week. We need to do the things to help build a foundation for better jobs.”
Lew insisted throughout the morning that the economic health, at its “core,” was doing well and reiterated that, as the government approaches the September deadline to extend the debt ceiling, cuts were not the answer.
“We cannot cut our way to prosperity,” Lew told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We have already done a lot of deficit reduction. … The IMF says we’re doing too much too quickly, we should be doing more in the long term and less in the short term. … The across the board cuts are not good for the economy.”
“We ought to be having a debate about the kinds of medium and long term reforms to entitlements and tax programs, but we ought not to be talking about holding the country hostage and get into a fight about extending the debt limit,” he added.
“The debt limit,” Lew said, “doesn’t create any new spending, all the debt limit does is give us permission to pay the bills Congress has already committed to.”
It is an argument the president has made before. However, many Republicans disagree.
Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) pushed back on Lew’s comments on “Fox News Sunday.”
“This is the same tired old message we’ve been hearing from this president and his administration, from day one, and the fact is it hasn’t worked,” he said. “The fact is that if you want to help the middle class, the best thing you can do is limit the federal governments profile, not expand it.”
“I’m certainly not saying that there is no role for government in any of these [infrastructure] areas,” Lee added, “but we do have to ask the question, which government? Is that a proper federal role in every instance or should it most of the time be a prerogative of state governments to look out for things like education.”
Obama said this week Washington had “taken it’s eye off the ball” to focus on “an endless parade of … phony scandals.”
When asked if the IRS’ targeting of conservative organizations was a “phony scandal,” Lew, who was appointed to follow up on the IRS investigation, attempted to clarify the president’s comments and said accusations of political involvement were incorrect on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I think that the piece of it that the president was referring to was, after weeks and weeks of investigations … there’s no evidence of any political involvement in the decisions leading up to that situation,” Lew said. “There was a real problem. The problem was bad judgment that was, you know, career officials trying to operate their programs more efficiently using bad judgment to do it, but the political piece, that’s a stretch. There’s no evidence.”