Lew grew up, though, as a political activist, not a budgeteer. His roots in local politics are deep, and he spent high school in the trenches of the local reform Democratic movement, before enrolling at Carleton College in Minnesota, where his faculty adviser was a political scientist named Paul Wellstone.
Wellstone sent him to Washington for work and study, and Lew found a job with the firebrand Rep. Bella Abzug. But he tired of Abzug’s difficult personality and her confrontational approach and soon found his way to a different kind of liberalism embodied by Rep. Joe Moakley, a “regular” machine Democrat from Boston.
Lew’s career has included several stints as high-profile adviser to powerful lawmakers. He was a chief adviser to House Speaker Tip O’Neill in the 1980s and worked an assistant to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, serving as Clinton’s budget director from 1998 to the end of his time in office.
Obama originally appointed Lew to a deputy secretary of state position and eventually asked him to head the Office of Management and Budget, which he has done since late 2010. Lew was an especially prominent player in the fight to raise the federal debt limit last summer.
Lew will be Obama’s third chief of staff, after Rahm Emanuel (now the mayor of Chicago) and Bill Daley.