How Jack Lew could save Obama's legacy

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The cast of characters who will hash out out whatever fiscal cliff deal comes--or doesn't come--will include President Obama's Chief of Staff Jack Lew. That is, if Obama wins reelection. In the latest National Journal magazine, Nancy Cook profiles Lew, who is among Obama's closest advisers and could help the president save his legacy.

Here's the upshot:

Should Obama win, Lew is seen as a top contender for Treasury secretary, with the biggest mark against him that he is so highly valued in his current post, Obama might prefer to keep him at the White House. Either way, the task of cutting a "grand bargain" doesn't grow any easier. If Lew can close a lame-duck compact that somehow chops the deficit, avoids the hated sequester, and largely leaves Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security intact, Obama would be ranked with Presidents Reagan and Clinton, who cut large-scale budget deals that preserved costly entitlements. If he blows it, Lew becomes just another in a long list of aides who couldn't break the stranglehold of dysfunction that has seized the capital.

Come Wednesday morning, Lew will either be one of the most powerful nonelected men in the federal government who will help to lead the future of major spending and tax policy for the next decade, or he'll be a figurehead, a dean of past budget deals, plotting an escape and heading north toward home. 

Read more from the magazine here.

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