Geithner fight on fiscal cliff invokes Dodd-Frank pragmatism

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Critics’ Blame

The law’s critics say the Treasury secretary is to blame for many of its shortcomings.

“Dodd-Frank is a big legacy of Tim Geithner’s, which I think will look worse and worse as time goes on,” said Alex Pollock, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, a research group that promotes free enterprise, and a former president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. Dodd-Frank is marred by “Byzantine complexity” and “faith in bureaucracy,” he said.

Another piece of Geithner’s legacy that divides supporters and detractors is the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which bailed out companies including AIG, Citigroup and General Motors Co. The bank portion of TARP has been profitable, and the CBO projected in October that the entire program will cost taxpayers $24 billion, down from an estimate of $109 billion in March 2010.

Close Relationship

Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke are the two most senior government officials remaining from the 2008 financial crisis and bailouts, and the two have a close relationship.

“The main thing we share,” Geithner said in a November 2010 interview, “is that we went through the searing experience of the panic together, trying to design a strategy to contain it and clean up the mess afterward. We have the bond you get from that kind of combat.”

He’s defended Bernanke and the Fed against critics in Congress, and despite prodding from journalists and lawmakers, Geithner is careful in his public remarks not to offer opinions on monetary policy.

Geithner’s time at the Treasury has coincided with increasingly tense relations between the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers.

He “has few allies on Capitol Hill,” and the difficulties in his Senate confirmation should have been a “red flag” that he needed to work on this, Calabria said.

Boehner Rapport

Geithner has improved his rapport with some congressional Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, the party’s key lawmaker in the fiscal-cliff talks. Boehner, who called for Geithner’s ouster in August 2010, prefers to deal with the Treasury secretary than any of Obama’s other negotiators, according to a House Republican aide close to the speaker.

Boehner and other Republican leaders, in a letter to Obama today, proposed $1.4 trillion in spending cuts as well as $800 billion in new revenue by limiting tax breaks and capping deductions for top earners. The Republican plan would cut spending on entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid by at least $900 billion and save another $300 billion through cuts in discretionary spending, according to the letter.

While Geithner has tried to minimize differences with Republicans in congressional hearings by asserting that their views and his aren’t far apart, his unwillingness to stray from the administration’s message often frustrates questioners.

Ryan Clash

At a House Budget Committee hearing in February, Geithner clashed repeatedly with Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who later became his party’s candidate for vice president.

Ryan mocked a favorite saying of Geithner’s -- that a plan beats no plan -- saying Obama’s budget didn’t address the nation’s fiscal challenges and was really not a plan at all.

“I think you have to decide just for consistency, OK, are you going to say you do not like our plan, which proves we have a plan? Or we don’t have a plan?” Geithner said.

Ryan also asked Geithner if he thought the administration was showing leadership by waiting “for other people to do something.”

“You guys just spent about six months threatening to default on obligations you gave us, you bequeathed to us,” Geithner said, referring to last year’s debt-limit negotiations. The session ended with Ryan cutting off Geithner.

“You really, really want to have the last word,” Ryan said. “I’m just not going to let you have it. This hearing’s adjourned.”

Better Rapport

Geithner’s rapport with his European counterparts is better, even as he pressures the region’s leaders to move more quickly and decisively to erase investor concerns that the euro debt crisis will spread.

Geithner has shown a “perfect understanding of regulation issues,” Bank of France Governor Christian Noyer told reporters after a Nov. 5 meeting of Group of 20 economic officials in Mexico City. “He was extremely active in contributing to the global consensus on the main steps of financial regulation.” Noyer is also a member of the European Central Bank’s governing council.

From January 2010 to June 2012, Geithner had at least 168 meetings or phone calls with euro-area officials and 114 with the International Monetary Fund, according to an analysis of Geithner’s appointments by Jean Pisani-Ferry, director of Brussels-based research group Bruegel.

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