Over a third of the Senate voted against Tim Geithner’s confirmation as Treasury secretary, though he did pass the test by 60 to 34 early Monday evening. That is the closest post-WWII margin for a Treasury secretary. According to Bloomberg, seven of the last 23 Treasury-secretary nominees -- under which actual Senate roll-call votes were taken -- were confirmed by an average vote margin of 95 to one. (The others were confirmed without an official vote count.)
Interestingly, three Democrats voted against: Tom Harkin of Iowa, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Independent Bernie Sanders also voted no. Noteworthy on the Republican side, Susan Collins of Maine voted against Geithner, accusing him of "inexcusable negligence" in his non-payment of taxes ($43,000) during his IMF days.
Arlen Specter told reporters early on Monday that he would vote yes, but he changed his mind and voted no. Robert Byrd, by the way, captured the sentiments of John Kyl, Jim Bunning, and many others when he said: "Had [Geithner] not been nominated for Treasury secretary, it’s doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes."
The surprising number of no votes suggests that both parties will keep Geithner on a short leash. And it was President Obama who ran over to the Treasury Department to swear Geithner in right after the Senate vote. This was unusual, but it’s clear the new president is trying to stop the bleeding of his new Treasury man. Instead of a hoped-for early confirmation to get the next stage of the financial-bailout package moving, Geithner wound up being one of the last cabinet officers confirmed.
But Geithner’s gaffes are not all tax related. He tripped up again last Friday when it was discovered that he attacked China in written responses to Senate Finance Committee questions. This caused quite a stir on Wall Street, as gold soared and the dollar fell. Mr. Geithner will be the biggest bond salesman in American history as he attempts to successfully finance what will be trillions of dollars in new debt obligations. That’s why it’s hard to understand how he would poke a stick in the eyes of his biggest banker, namely China, by labeling them a "currency manipulator."
Currency manipulator is an actionable phrase that could trigger a 27 percent tariff on Chinese imports, according to the highly protectionist resolution sponsored by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Charles Schumer. Henry Paulson took great care to avoid that phrase during his tenure.