Lew: Confidence at core of U.S. economic recovery

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- President Obama's former chief of staff took over at Treasury five months ago. Now he's the administration's point man on the economy. We sat down with Secretary Jack Lew at the Treasury Department, next door to the White House Wednesday and asked him why so many Americans aren't feeling the recovery.

JACK LEW: For almost every American family there are scars from the deep recession. So I think that we have a job in Washington and in public policy to make the right decisions and to show that we're staying on the course that's going to keep the economy growing and keep opportunities for the American middle class growing. I think that every time Washington has a divisive fight that suggests that we may become part of the problem, it actually hurts, it hurts in that confidence. Economics is really a lot of collective psychology. When people feel better about the future, they act better and the economy picks up. When people worry it also has an effect on the economy.

SCOTT PELLEY: This is from the Federal Reserve, and -- and these are data that you're familiar with. That line that's rising there is the growth in part-time jobs. And the line that's dropping is the loss of full-time jobs. Why is that happening in our economy today?

LEW: Well, I think that we've seen a number of things happening in the economy over the last couple of decades that have changed the kinds of jobs people have and the way employers fill out their labor force.

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PELLEY: But when you look at those two lines and how divergent they are, is this the new normal?

LEW: Well, I think that we're seeing the overall unemployment rate fall. The thing that -- that causes me concern is that while we see the overall unemployment rate falling, we're seeing stubbornly high unemployment -- high rates of long-term unemployment. And I think that we have to think both about the macroeconomic problems of growing the economy and growing jobs, but also what's happening to people who might get left behind.

I think that this question of confidence is at the core. I mean, employers make decisions to add full-time staff, to add plant and equipment when they have confidence in the future. Our job in terms of setting policy is to make clear that there's a basis for that confidence. I actually think the core of the U.S. economy is showing the resilience that gives reason to be confident about America's future.

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Watch: Lew says "no evidence" political appointee involved in IRS tea party targeting, below.

The new Treasury secretary also oversees the IRS, so we wanted to ask about allegations of political targeting of tea party organizations applying for tax-exempt status. A congressional investigation raised new questions last week, when retired IRS attorney Carter Hull testified he was asked to pass applications from tea party organizations up to the IRS Office of General Counsel in Washington.

That's an office of 1,600 lawyers, but Hull's testimony raised the question of whether the agency's top attorney, the general counsel himself, was involved. The general counsel is appointed by the president. We put the question to Lew.

LEW: Scott, there's been an awful lot of -- of effort put into this investigation, you know, through the inspector general, the Justice Department looking at it, multiple congressional committees. There has been no evidence -- no evidence -- of the involvement of any political appointee in making these decisions. And, you know, there a lot of lawyers at the IRS. There's only one who's a political appointee.

PELLEY: Has any political appointee had oversight of the decisions that were made around the tea party applications?

LEW: There has been no evidence of anyone in a political position having been involved in any of those decisions.

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

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