I am not a big fan of Jack Lew but I disagree with some supporters of the Democratic party who are saying that the treasury secretary hasn’t been direct enough about what they feel are the disastrous consequences of a government shut down on October 17, by speaking of it in less than apocalyptic terms, thus giving those Republicans who think the shut down is no big deal some room to make their case.
I think this is mistaken. It is true that Lew is a political appointee and as such is obliged to pursue the president’s agenda. But the secretary of the treasury cannot afford to be just another political hack involved in the thick of political infighting. He ultimately has to be a steward of the economy and he has a duty to protect it as far as he can. He cannot blithely shut things down on October 17 and go home. He has an obligation to pull out all the stops to avert default.
I am pretty sure that he is exploring ways to delay disaster if October 17 should come round and there is no deal on raising the debt ceiling, and that he will resort to extraordinary measures to try and avert a default as long as he can, though he will not share those plans beforehand.
That does not mean that the October 17 deadline is a lie as some Republicans claim. It just means that he would have to resort to ad hoc measures that are unseemly for the world’s greatest economic power and outside the normal run of doing business. That is bad enough. To ask him to box himself in to a fixed date so that he cannot take measures to delay default even by a few days is unreasonable.
So we should lay off Lew. Let him be vague.