WASHINGTON (AP) - New York Federal Reserve Bank President
Timothy Geithner won confirmation Monday as President Barack
Obama's treasury secretary despite personal tax lapses that turned
more than a third of the Senate against him.
"Tim's work and the work of the entire Treasury Department must
begin at once. We cannot lose a day, because every day the economic
picture is darkening, here and across the globe," Obama told the
audience before Geithner was sworn into office by Vice President
The Senate voted 60-34 to put Geithner in charge of the
administration's economic team as it races to halt the worst
financial slide in generations. The swearing-in followed less than
an hour later, the administration seeking to emphasize that it was
wasting no time in trying to address the financial crisis.
Obama said there had been a "devastating loss of trust and
confidence" and that the financial system was in "serious
In his remarks, Geithner said the new administration would work
first to stabilize the financial system and get the economy growing
again and then would move to reform the system.
"We are at a point of maximum challenge for our economy and our
country," Geithner said to a standing-room only audience in
Treasury Department's ornate Cash Room. On hand were Federal
Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary
Lawrence Summers, now director of Obama's National Economic
Referring to Geithner's tax problems, White House spokesman
Robert Gibbs said Geithner had made amends - he has paid the taxes
and penalties - and possessed the talent needed to steer the nation
out of the crisis.
Geithner, 47, served as undersecretary of the treasury for
international affairs during the Clinton administration. As
president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, he's been a key
player in the government's response to collapsing financial
institutions and the housing and credit markets since last summer.
The ambivalence dogging lawmakers was reflected in the fact that
a third of the chamber voted against Geithner, in large part
because of his failure to pay all his taxes on income received from
the International Monetary Fund in 2001 and in three subsequent
Ten Republicans overlooked that matter and voted for
confirmation. One Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania,
told reporters earlier in the day that he would vote yes, only to
change his mind and vote no.
Three Democrats and one independent voted against Geithner's
confirmation, including Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the
longest-serving senator in history.
"Had he not been nominated for treasury secretary, it's
doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes," Byrd said in a
For the prevailing majority, the real reason for Geithner's
likely confirmation appears to be less a matter of bipartisan
cooperation than political survival. Lawmakers of all stripes are
eager to set the economy in the right direction long before voters
judge their progress in the 2010 midterm elections.
"People make mistakes and commit oversights," said Sen. Orrin
Hatch, R-Utah. "Even the most intelligent and gifted - two
adjectives that certainly apply to Mr. Geithner - make errors in
their financial dealings."
Even so, not everyone was convinced that the need for a speedy
confirmation should trump concerns about the candidate. Sen. Susan
Collins, R-Maine, didn't buy Geithner's contention that he skipped
paying some taxes because he was confused by the complexities of
the tax code.
"They were described by the nominee himself as 'careless
mistakes,"' Collins said in prepared remarks. "It has become
clear to me that this is not merely a matter of complexity leading
to mistakes, but of inexcusable negligence."
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., agreed and noted that his is one of the
few voices of dissent.
"Nominees for positions that do not oversee tax reporting and
collection have been forced to withdraw their nomination for more
minor offenses. They have been ridden out of town on a verbal
rail," Enzi told the Senate. "The fact that we're in a global
economic crisis is not a reason to overlook these errors."
"The Senate," he scolded, "is not supposed to be a group of
It wasn't. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa lined up against
the nominee, asking how someone of Geithner's "financial
sophistication" could innocently not pay the taxes and then head
up the agency that oversees the IRS.
"How can Mr. Geithner speak with any credibility or
authority?" Harkin said.
The 10 Republicans who voted yes were Sens. Bob Corker of
Tennessee, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Ensign
of Nevada, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New
Hampshire, Hatch of Utah, Richard Shelby of Alabama, Olympia Snowe
of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio.
The Democrats voting no were Sens. Byrd, Russell Feingold of
Wisconsin and Harkin of Iowa. Also voting no was Sen. Bernie
Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with Democrats.
Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Edward M. Kennedy,
D-Mass. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., were absent. Senate seats
representing Minnesota and New York are vacant.
The Senate Finance Committee approved Geithner's confirmation in
an 18-5 vote last week.
Congress is working on an $825 billion economic recovery package
that dedicates about two-thirds to new government spending and the
rest to tax cuts. Geithner will be playing a big role in disbursing
that money, too.