- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

Timothy Geithner overcame concerns about irregularities in his income-tax returns and won Senate panel approval for his nomination to head the Treasury Department, as the agency he may soon head received a vote of no confidence from House lawmakers displeased with its handling of the Wall Street bailout.

The Senate Finance Committee, despite lingering doubts from Republicans, approved Mr. Geithner’s nomination 18-5 and sent it along to the full Senate. All five of the “no” votes were Republicans, including ranking minority member Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

Democrats have pushed for quick confirmation of President Obama’s nominee, arguing that the critical Treasury post should not be left vacant as the nation tackles a severe financial crisis and a deepening recession. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the full Senate may debate the nomination and have a confirmation vote as soon as Monday evening.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House in a symbolic vote put itself on record against giving the Obama administration the right to spend the second $350 billion of the $700 billion Wall Street plan.

The 270-155 House vote - with just four of the 175 Republicans voting to approve the new money - had no practical impact, as the Senate last week effectively shot down any congressional effort to block the money. But the House vote was a reflection of deep anger among both voters and lawmakers with the results of the first $350 billion already allocated under the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

“Simply put, my constituents don’t believe their money has been well-spent, and neither do I,” said Rep. Judy Biggert, Illinois Republican.

At Mr. Geithner’s lengthy confirmation hearing Wednesday, Mr. Geithner apologized repeatedly for what he called “unintentional” lapses in his tax filings, including failing to pay promptly self-employment taxes that he owed while working for the International Monetary Fund earlier in the decade. He repaid some of his tax obligations after being picked by Mr. Obama for the Treasury post.

“I don’t believe that the requisite candor exists for me to indicate my support for him with an affirmative vote,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who had earlier called Mr. Geithner’s explanations for his oversights “implausible.”

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said the crisis facing the nation demanded quick action on the nominee.

“The president needs his team, and I’m trying to help him get his team in place,” Mr. Baucus told reporters after the vote.

Lawmakers of both parties complained that the TARP had been designed poorly and implemented inconsistently, with little accountability from the banks and financial firms who were given taxpayer money. The bailout vote came a day after the House passed a separate bill to attach new conditions to the remaining TARP money, including stricter reporting standards and devoting at least $40 billion to aid homeowners facing foreclosure.

The Senate has not begun consideration of its own TARP bill and is considered unlikely to take up the House bill.

Thursday’s vote showed the erosion in support for the rescue package just since October. The House struggled to pass the original $700 billion bailout bill last fall, first rejecting the plan and then reversing itself five days later.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, unsuccessfully appealed to the House not to block the funds, even in a symbolic vote. But he said banks and firms benefiting from the bailout should take note of the popular resentment over the program.

“There is a degree of anger in the American public at what they think is a very unfair system that gives benefits unduly and disproportionately to some of those who caused the problem, while denying health care and unemployment compensation and a decent higher education for working-class people,” Mr. Frank said.

Mr. Frank said he thought that many in the new Obama administration shared the dissatisfaction over the effectiveness of the first $350 billion and would adopt many of the changes recommended in the House bill.

“The Obama administration should not be denied the right to use these funds because the Bush administration misused them,” Mr. Frank argued.

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