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Why did Sanders, Feingold, Harkin and Byrd vote against Geithner?

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

The Senate yesterday voted to confirm Tim Geithner as Obama’s new Treasury Secretary – but the vote was narrower than expected, at 60-34. Apparently, it was the slimmest margin of confirmation for a Treasury Secretary since WWII.

Among those who voted nay were the Democrats Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin and Robert Byrd, as well as Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont who was elected as independent but caucuses with the Democrats. I’m generally a fan of Feingold and especially Sanders, and lukewarm about Geithner (not so much about the tax issue as rather because he’s too cautious and too involved in the current failings of the financial system). So I’m curious why they went all out and voted against him.

I tried searching for any statements from them on the matter, but there’s nothing on any of their Senate homepages. For Byrd, all I found (in three zillion copies of a news agency report) is that he commented after the vote, “Had he not been nominated for treasury secretary, it’s doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes.” But Firedoglake has the statement from Feingold. For him, too, it was the tax issue that did it:

“I voted against the nomination of Timothy Geithner to be the next Secretary of the Treasury with some reluctance. President Obama, like any other President, is entitled to have the Cabinet he wants, barring  serious disqualifying issue, and Mr. Geithner is a very able nominee in many ways. And while I am troubled by Mr. Geithner’s track record on some of the issues that have contributed to the credit market crisis, I do not base my vote on what is, to a certain extent, a matter of policy disagreement.

“Mr. Geithner’s tax liability is a different matter, however. I am deeply troubled by his failure to pay the payroll taxes he owed, despite repeated alerts from his employer at the time, the International Monetary Fund, that he was responsible for paying those taxes. Moreover, his earlier interactions with the Internal Revenue service over his failure to pay sufficient payroll taxes for his household employees make Mr. Geithner’s explanations of his failure to pay his own payroll taxes even less satisfactory. The failure to comply with our nation’s tax laws would be problematic for any Cabinet nominee, but it is especially disturbing when it involves the individual who will be charged with overseeing the enforcement of our tax laws.

“With the condition the economy is in, and the state of our country’s financial institutions, the stakes could not be greater for the next Treasury Secretary. While I could not support his nomination, I respect Mr. Geithner’s abilities and I look forward to working with him to address the serious problems facing our country.”

Meanwhile, the Radio Iowa blog has the statement from Tom Harkin. For him, the tax issue and Geithner’s co-responsibility for the current crisis as chief regulator of the financial institutions weighed equally in his decision:

“I strongly believe that, save in extraordinary circumstances, the President should have the right to select his own team.  President Obama believes that Mr. Geithner is the best person for this job, and it pains me to go against the President’s wishes on this matter.

“I believe that Mr. Geithner is a person of obvious talent and experience, and I bear no ill will toward him whatsoever.  However, after careful deliberation, I simply could not overcome my very serious reservations about this nominee for two reasons. Mr. Geithner made serious errors of judgment in failing to pay his taxes, and he made serious errors in his job as chief regulator of the financial institutions at the heart of the current financial crisis.

“Nothing would make me happier than for Mr. Geithner to prove me wrong by serving with distinction. I wish him every success as Treasury Secretary – we will all be rooting for his success.”

If anyone sees the statement by Bernie Sanders, do leave a link in the comments. UPDATE: Sanders’ statement is in the next blog post.

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