The man who made Republicans blink

The man who made Republicans blink
US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The visage suggests Asian roots. So does the name. The negotiating style is that of a dogged Hakka haggling on a Hong Kong street.

In March, when US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew went on a trip to Beijing to meet new Chinese President Xi Jinping, he reportedly had a US$6 (S$7.40) lunch with staff members at Bao Yuan Dumpling House close to the American embassy.

Though he can eat like a Beijing local and is often mistaken for having Asian heritage, Mr Lew has Jewish parents. Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman once joked that he had always been envious that Mr Lew managed to "be Jewish and convince people by your name that you're actually Asian-American".

Yet, it's not his looks but his poker-faced gambit that got a recalcitrant Republican Party to blink in the stand-off over the government debt ceiling that's drawing attention to this Washington insider. The Republicans had refused to pass the federal budget unless concessions were given on President Barack Obama's healthcare law, leading to a partial government shutdown from Oct 1, and refused to agree on increasing the debt ceiling as well, risking a government default on its debts.

The eleventh-hour deal by Congress to avert a potential default and reopen government has been hailed as something of a victory for Mr Obama. In equal measure, it is Mr Lew's victory as well.

The 58-year-old took a gamble by presenting Oct 17 as the day the US economy would fall off a precipice if no deal was reached.

That he was able to focus minds squarely on that single date is a testament to how shrewd a negotiator Mr Lew is as well as almost three decades' worth of experience fighting budget battles.

His strategic triumph in the latest round has once again thrust the spotlight on an otherwise low-key White House operative.

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