* Lew moves from State Department to White House
* Obama says Lew joins team at a critical time (Adds Obama statement; Lew’s current job; byline)
By JoAnne Allen
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Jacob Lew as the new White House budget chief after a Democratic senator dropped a hold on his nomination.
The confirmation returns Lew to the White House as director of the Office of Management and Budget, a post he held from 1998 to 2001.
Lew is currently deputy Secretary of State for management and resources and chief operating officer of the State Department.
As President Bill Clinton’s head of budget, Lew helped return the United States to budget surpluses. Now, he must confront its record deficit.
President Barack Obama said Lew brings “unparalleled experience and wisdom” to the job at a critical time in U.S. history.
“After years of irresponsibility in Washington, we need to make the tough choices to put our country back on a sustainable fiscal path and lay the foundation for long-term job creation and economic growth,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident Jack Lew can lead us in these efforts.”
The U.S. budget deficit is now $1.3 trillion and the national debt is more than $13.6 trillion — the highest levels in decades, but still below the levels of some other advanced nations when compared to the size of their economies.
The heads of a bipartisan commission appointed by President Barack Obama to study deficit reduction last week proposed recommendations that would trim the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. They include cutting discretionary spending, eliminating tax breaks, and raising the Social Security retirement age.
Obama nominated Lew in July, but the nomination languished in the Senate, blocked by Mary Landrieu, a member of Obama’s own party.
Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, put a hold on Lew’s nomination to protest the administration’s ban on offshore oil drilling imposed in the wake of BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration lifted the ban in October.
The Senate confirmed Lew on a voice vote after Landrieu lifted the hold on the nomination on Thursday night.
“I figured it would get their attention, and I think it has,” Landrieu said after the confirmation, referring to her protest and subsequent meetings with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Lew replaces Peter Orszag, who stepped down on July 30 to take a position at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York think tank. (Writing by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Eric Walsh)