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The Hill: Jack Lew As Chief Of Staff, OMB Appointment, GOP Attacks On Romney

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Alex Bolton, senior staff writer with The Hill newspaper.

The White House is gearing up for a transition, as Jack Lew -- the director of the Office of Management and Budget -- will take over as President Obama's new chief of staff.  As Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper notes, it's a change that could affect the relationship between the White House and Congress. 

What kind of reputation does Lew have among lawmakers on Capitol Hill?

"He has a very good reputation and he's well-known to lawmakers on the hill," says Bolton. "He played a central role in the negotiations at the end of last year to extend the payroll tax cut for an additional two months. That role was cited by White House press secretary Jay Carney in a press conference today."

Over the summer, Lew was in the middle of negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner on putting together the long-term deficit-reduction package in exchange for raising the debt limit. He's known for his policy expertise and his sense of how Congress works.

"It's not all roses. Earlier last year, during the deficit reduction negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confronted Lew, because Senate Democrats were unhappy that Lew didn't do more to keep them in the loop," notes Bolton.

This shift leaves open Lew's current position -- as director of the OMB.  A successor would have to be confirmed by the Senate -- at a time when there's a lot of tension around the confirmation process.  Do you expect Republicans to try to block the President's nominee?

"Republicans are very upset about the recent recess appointments to head the Consumer Financial Protection bureau and the National Labor Relations Board. The difference between those agencies and OMB are that Republicans wouldn't mind if the CFP and the NLRB stopped working altogether. However, the OMB is a key agency -- it's in charge of putting the budget together. And when Republicans routinely criticize Democrats for not putting together realistic budget plans, it would be somewhat hypocritical of them to block the person who is supposed to be in charge of the budget."

Meanwhile, GOP candidates have been attacking Mitt Rommey - ahead of today's New Hampshire primary. You've been reporting on how Democrats in Washington are taking notes. How big of a favor are Republicans doing for the Democrats if Mitt Romney is the eventual nominee?

"Democrats see it as very encouraging. Their strategy all along was to attack Romney on his record as CEO of Bain Capital, during which he presided over thousands of layoffs. Republican rivals have preempted the Democrats by some extent by attacking Romney from what is traditionally an approach from the left."

A lot depends on whether Romney can respond effectively to attacks. If Romney does well in New Hampshire, it could be a sign that he is doing well to rebut those criticisms. A big test remains in South Carolina -- a state with high unemployment -- so that could be a stronger test of how he might fare in a general election.

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