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If you can't hire, you can't fire

geithnerreads.jpgBruce Bartlett thinks that Timothy Geithner is becoming a liability to Obama, but there's not much Obama can do about it.

Geithner's political tone-deafness is becoming a serious liability to Obama. The problem with replacing him, as I have said earlier, is finding someone who is qualified, confirmable and not connected to Wall Street. Given that half the top political appointees at Treasury are still awaiting Senate confirmation, I think Obama may be stuck with Geithner no matter how low his stock falls. Is there a potential replacement who has paid his taxes, has populist leanings, knows Wall Street but isn't part of it, who wouldn't be filibustered by the Republicans?

I made this point the other day, as well. A Senate that can't be trusted to confirm non-controversial nominees can't be trusted to confirm controversial nominees. In that way, holds and filibusters, which are supposed to make the executive branch's nominees more accountable, in fact makes confirmed nominees much less accountable, as the president can't trust his ability to easily replace them and so can't take the risk of firing them. I thought of ending this post with a line about how Republicans who want Geithner gone are actually making it impossible for him to go, but then I realized that Republicans probably don't want Geithner gone. They're served best by making him both unpopular and irreplaceable.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 22, 2010; 11:39 AM ET
Categories:  Obama administration  
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Next: The Republican plan to pass 'health-care reform'?


I'm unimpressed. Geithner can say he's resigning effective July 1st. Obama has plenty of time to get the confirmation through the senate. The fact that Geithner got through confirmation despite the tax problems is evidence it's not too hard for high profile people, not evidence that it's nearly impossible.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | January 22, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

ps. does not close the italics.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | January 22, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

One more reason to go nuclear and get rid of minority rule in the Senate. If the Dems won't change the rules to allow themselves to pass bills and confirm nominees with a 59 member majority, when will they? Failing to fix the Senate dooms the country to an accelerating death spiral of gridlock and paralysis.

Posted by: redwards95 | January 22, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

From the Senate website, here's the definition of a hold (emphasis mine):

"An INFORMAL practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader NEED NOT FOLLOW the Senator's wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure."

If the shoe were on the other foot, such large scale holds would be ignored by a Republican Majority Leader.

Posted by: cjo30080 | January 22, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't the dems out every day excoriating the repiglicans mercilessly for holding up appointees. The senate is 100 people behind the pace that Bush's appointments were at this time.

Where is the outrage?

Where is the Media?

Posted by: srw3 | January 22, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

so we have a sclerotic "European style" labor market in senior government officials?

Posted by: bdballard | January 22, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Summers far more of a liability, anyway? I occasionally hear mumbled attempts at trying to sound populist from Geithner. For Summers, from what I can tell, it's "let them eat cake"--keep wage growth slow, &c.

Posted by: Bertilak | January 22, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Give Robert Reich the job. Recess appointment if needed. Then keep recess appointing him, and everyone else the GOP blocks.

Freaking Bolton got the UN gig under Bush... and he *hates* the UN. Does the Obama have no freaking balls?

And yes... Summers and Rahm need to go. Rahm got the job because his alleged ability to get things done in Congress. The Obama admin has been a failure at getting things done in congress.


Posted by: toshiaki | January 22, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

It would be better to have Geithner's job EMPTY than have that traitor filling it.

All these unfilled jobs is another sign of Obama's incompetence (not to mention Pelosi's and Reid's).

Posted by: Lomillialor | January 22, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I am sick of this line - 'can't hire, can't fire'.

That is all about Governance - getting positions filled in. You do not get to say eloquently about governance in one post and in another case to ignore that.

Don't tell me in this country we cannot find any respectable candidates to Treasury Sec Job and who cannot find bit of bi-partisan support as well as passes the whetting.

If White House is serious, they need to have a list of persons for every post in the Administration in case of emergency. Only President and VP are in-dispensable; every one is dispensable.

Now that Bernanke is on way out, there is no point to hang to Geithner. I guess time for Summers seem to be up as well. The train has to go over all these bodies.

That is what that MA election was all about if Democrats want to continue to ignore what many were saying before.

We are getting there, Bernanke and possibly scalpel of Geithner; these are the only positive news for Dems after MA loss. All the Bank Reg. Obama is talking; that is all 'show', no substance unless we are showed the 'money'.

Posted by: umesh409 | January 22, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse


The guy is well qualified, as progressive as today's economists get -- which is to say not an extreme right winger.

But, it would be a solid pick. So, I'll plug his globalization book -- which is a fantastic read if you can get beyond the 2nd day of Econ 101. (Shame everyone ignores the 1st day's lesson, too.)

Posted by: rat-raceparent | January 22, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I disagree that there's not much that can be done: they can leave him there as the titular head and leave the policy making to someone else. It's an expensive workaround to have to pay him but a drop i the bucket when compared to the opportunity cost of not letting better people get on with the work.

And there is absolutely no reason the White House couldn't stop leaning so much on Larry Summers. There are good people whose ideas will never get any kind of hearing as long as he is the gatekeeper.

Posted by: Athena_news | January 22, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The lesson?

Just because you CAN appoint a tax cheat doesn't mean you SHOULD.

Posted by: bgmma50 | January 22, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

'The problem with replacing him, as I have said earlier, is finding someone who is qualified, confirmable and not connected to Wall Street.'

Finding someone that cheated on his taxes shouldn't be *that* hard....

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | January 23, 2010 12:03 AM | Report abuse

Paul Volcker

Posted by: rjw88 | January 23, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Rep. Peter DeFazio.

I used to be one of his constituents in a red-rural/blue-college-town district, and he has been in the House for 20 years railing against the national debt, pushing accountability for each tax dollar spent and aggressively seeking to re-regulate the financial sector.

He would truly be the Sheriff of Wall Street, and America would be lucky to have him. Although Oregon and Congress would be sorry to lose him.

Posted by: punkiedrewster | January 25, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

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