Hot Shot Geithner Needs Help

Hot Shot Geithner Needs Help

By Jack Kelly - March 13, 2009

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee March 3 would have been hilarious, were the implications for our economy not so grave. It was his first major appearance since Feb. 10, when his halting description of a half-baked plan to bail out banks caused the stock market to plunge by some 400 points.

The Dow dropped only 40 points that day, which Time magazine's Massimo Calabresi said was a triumph of sorts for Mr. Geithner.

"Sure, he doesn't seem to fill his suit, and he talks too quickly, and he swallows the ends of his sentences, and he gives the impression of a grad student taking an oral exam," Mr. Calabresi said. "But he'll be a hero of the western world world if his plan to subsidize the sale of toxic assets leads banks back from the brink."

Mr. Geithner didn't talk much about that plan -- whatever it is -- at that hearing. But he did assure the committee chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), that he'll crack down on individuals and companies that try to avoid paying taxes.

Gee, where might he start? Perhaps with himself. Mr. Geithner was confirmed despite having failed to pay his payroll taxes for four years.

Or perhaps with Rep. Rangel, who failed to pay taxes on income from the rental of his vacation home in the Dominican Republic.

Or maybe with former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who didn't think it necessary to pay nearly $10,000 in back taxes until President Obama chose him to be the U.S. Trade Representative.

Or how about Adolfo Carrion, Mr. Obama's choice for "urban czar?" As the borough president in the Bronx he "often received contributions just before and after he sponsored money for projects or improved important zoning changes," the New York Daily News reported.

When he wasn't assuring his fellow tax cheat that he would crack down on tax cheats, Mr. Geithner was defending President Obama's plans to nationalize the health care system, and to impose a carbon tax. Neither would help us out of our current economic troubles. Both would impose additional burdens on our staggering economy.

The Obama administration's focus on just about everything except the financial crisis has unnerved billionaire Obama supporters Warren Buffett and Andrew Grove.

"You can't expect people to unite behind you if you are trying to jam a whole bunch of things down their throat," the "sage of Omaha" said in a CNBC interview Monday (March 9.) "The hopeful enthusiasm that welcomed the Obama administration has given way to growing worry and frustration," Mr. Grove said in an op-ed in the Washington Post Wednesday (March 11).

Considering what people on Wall Street think of him now, it's important to remember the stock market rose nearly 500 points Nov. 22 when word leaked out Mr. Geithner, then the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was Mr. Obama's choice for Treasury. He was thought by Republicans as well as Democrats to be the indispensable man.

Mr. Geithner is an illustration of the slender reeds on which Washington reputations are based. He was thought to be a hot shot because he was a protege of Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and co-architect of the Bush bank bailout plan nobody on Capitol Hill seems very happy with these days. And he had been a protege of Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, whose guidance is chiefly responsible for the ruin of CitiGroup.

In a sense Mr. Geithner is the indispensable man, because other than Bush holdover Stuart Levey, none of the top jobs in Treasury have been filled. Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, an Obama adviser, has called the situation "shameful." Sir Gus O'Donnell, a planner for the G20 economic summit meeting in London next month, said Wednesday nobody at Treasury was answering his telephone calls.

Perhaps staffing the Treasury department should have been a higher priority than establishing a White House Council on Women and Girls.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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