Senators quizzed the Treasury secretary nominee on his personal financial past and his public financial future
WASHINGTON-Was it an innocent mistake?
That was the question on senators' minds as they held a hearing for Treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner Wednesday, a man who will oversee the Internal Revenue Service and who failed to pay $34,000 in self-employment taxes from 2001 to 2004, when he worked for the International Monetary Fund.
"These were careless mistakes, they were avoidable mistakes, but they were unintentional," Geithner said in his opening statement. "I have corrected these errors and paid what I owed."
Ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, wasn't sure that the carelessness was permissible for someone of Geithner's financial acumen-though he added that the nominee may be "the only choice" to take the reins of Treasury, since Geithner has a strong background in monetary policy.
"This hearing is still rushed," said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.
Others, like Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., believed Geithner's testimony.
"You come to this committee with a great reputation for integrity," said Kerry, promising to support the nominee's confirmation.
"These are disappointing mistakes," said committee chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., "I believe them to be innocent mistakes."
Geithner apologized that the tax issue had to be a central question while the nation faces looming economic issues, which he intends to address with more financial regulation.
"Markets alone cannot solve all problems," he said.
Geithner is the head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and has worked with the Bush administration on bailout legislation. Paul Volcker, former chair of the Federal Reserve and now an economic advisor to President Obama, spoke in defense of Geithner's competency at the hearing.
The nominee, who is 47 years old like the president, said he would focus on restoring economic confidence through some government intervention while trying to diminish a federal deficit of $1.2 billion.
If the committee approves Geithner, the entire Senate then would consider his nomination, where leaders hope that the chamber will confirm Geithner quickly so he can take up Treasury responsibilities before the end of the week. Baucus said the process was moving "expeditiously" because of pressing economic matters.
Wednesday the Senate also plans to vote to confirm Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., to become secretary of state.
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