"It was unbelievable. At one point I told the president, keep him out of here. I don't need somebody who just knows how to say no.'"
(Woodward then reports that Lew found Boehner "impatient with details.")
Broadly, any Treasury secretary now faces three big questions.
* First: How, if at all, can the anemic economic recovery be improved?
In the first three years of this recovery - which officially began in mid-2009 - the economy has expanded at an average annual rate of 2 percent, less than half the 4.6 percent average for the 10 other recoveries since 1949.
Many economists predict more sluggishness. Behravesh forecasts 1.7 percent growth in 2013, with today's 7.8 unemployment rate dropping to only 7.5 percent by year-end.
* Second: How much and how fast should budget deficits be cut?
From 2009 to 2012, the federal debt increased by $5 trillion; on the present path, it will continue growing as a share of the economy.
Many economists warn that this could someday trigger a financial crisis, as fewer lenders buy U.S. debt.
But many of the same economists fear that abrupt deficit declines - from tax increases and spending cuts - would cause a new recession. That's what the "fiscal cliff" involved.
* Third: Can the global economy avoid self-destructive economic nationalism?
Economist Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute warns of currency wars, as countries let exchange rates depreciate to gain competitive advantage in export markets.
This has already happened; if it gets worse, protectionism could obstruct trade flows.
These are thorny issues; Lew's possible responses are unclear.
One constructive step would be to start cleansing Washington's poisonous political climate. This corrodes confidence and weakens the economy by undermining the willingness to spend and invest by households and businesses.
The question about Lew is whether he encourages cooperation and bolsters confidence - or becomes an instrument of conflict. Obama's anti-business attitudes are politically convenient but economically destructive.
As Behravesh puts it: "Who do they [administration officials] think creates jobs?
"It's puzzling to me that, when they want jobs, they bad-mouth the private sector. It doesn't compute."