Grassley AND Harkin vote “No” on Geithner

It was not a surprise today when Republican Senator Chuck Grassley voted against the confirmation of Timothy Geithner as U.S. Treasury Secretary, but Iowa's other U.S. Senator — Tom Harkin — was one of just three Democrats in the senate to vote against Geithner's confirmation.  West Virginia's Robert Byrd and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold were the two other Democrats who voted "no."  Last week during a telephone conference call with Iowa reporters, Harkin said Geithner's failure to pay taxes was troubling.  Today, Harkin went further and questioned how someone with the "financial sophistication" of Geithner could have made such a mistake.  Harkin also questioned how Geithner would have any "credibility" or "authority" in dealing with tax matters since he'd failed to pay taxes in the past.

Grassley's staff forwarded the statement he made during senate debate to reporters; Harkin issued a statement this evening.


WASHINGTON, DC -  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) released the following statement tonight after voting against Timothy Geithner to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

“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.”

Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley: Senate Floor Debate on Nomination of Timothy Geithner to be Treasury Secretary; Delivered Monday, Jan. 26, 2009

            For at least as long as Chairman Baucus and myself have served as the leaders of the Finance Committee, and certainly during those times I was chairman, all individuals nominated by the President who were subject to the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee have been subject to a thorough and nonpartisan vetting process.  In addition to filling out a detailed committee questionnaire, all nominees submit tax returns and the committee is provided with financial disclosures.  The review of these documents has nothing to do with the nominee’s political affiliation or policy goals.  The Finance Committee’s nomination process is there to ensure basic compliance with the law and to confirm that these individuals can be trusted with the incredible responsibilities that come with public service.

            My vote on this nominee will be a vote of confidence in the Finance Committee’s vetting process; it is a vote for the importance of character and integrity in those who serve; and specifically, it is a vote for treating presidential nominees, and all people, in a consistent manner.

            This nominee is not the first nominee to run aground on the Finance Committee’s vetting process.  There are other individuals who, after lengthy discussions with Senator Baucus, me, and committee staff, decided to withdraw from consideration. 

            In these situations, the Finance Committee keeps details learned during the vetting process private.  In cases where the nominee decides to go forward, such as that of this nominee, the committee makes details public in the interest of transparency and good government.  I believe the public’s business ought to be public.  Sometimes when details are disclosed, the nominee is confirmed and sometimes the nominee is not confirmed.  In these situations members have to judge the seriousness of the issues at hand, and the nominees have to judge how far they are wiling to go.  If the nominee decides to move ahead, the information will be released. 

            However, in the past, nominees who had tax issues as serious as this nominee’s, and some who have had less serious issues, have not attained Senate confirmation.  I feel it is improper to judge this nominee by a different standard.  I realize that times are tough right now, but if anything, that should be an incentive for us to raise our standards and not lower them.

            Finally, I believe we also need to treat all people in a consistent manner.  The same Internal Revenue Code applies to everyone regardless of whether someone is a well-known Wall Streeter or a student earning minimum wage.  Many people around the country who have not satisfied their tax obligations have been caught by the IRS, as this nominee was for tax years 2003 and 2004.  Many people end up having their houses seized, bank accounts frozen, and other assets taken by the government to pay their tax debts.  Some people even go to jail.

            There are many people who settle their liabilities without going to jail or having assets seized, but can this system operate with integrity if all parts of it report to someone who was unable for a long period of time to meet his own tax obligations and only did so as a condition of his nomination?
Finally, I want to mention differences of perception of different people who have been found to have unsettled tax liabilities.  During last year’s presidential campaign, we read a lot about a man named Joe the Plumber who hailed from Ohio.  When this man was found to have a tax lien for state taxes, some portrayed it as evidence that his opinions on national tax policy were irrelevant.  However, this nominee’s tax problems have been revealed to be much larger than Joe’s, and this nominee’s defenders still insist he is the only man for the job of Treasury secretary.  I ask unanimous consent that an article discussing this inconsistency by Jonah Goldberg appearing in National Review Online be printed in the record.

            I don’t make this decision lightly, but, as I’ve said, I must uphold the Finance Committee’s vetting process; I must vote for the importance of character and integrity in those who serve in government; and I must vote for treating presidential nominees, and all people, in a consistent manner.  Therefore I must vote against this nominee, Mr. Geithner.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.