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We've got some questions for Tim Geithner, and we're hoping you do too.  

Geithner delivered a populist stemwinder of a speech the other day, bringing his rhetorical A-game with comments like these: "Listen less to those whose judgments brought us this crisis. Listen less to those who told us all they were the masters of noble financial innovation and sophisticated risk management ... Instead, listen to the families and businesses still suffering from this crisis. Listen to those who borrowed responsibly but today can't get a loan or can't refinance their mortgage. Listen to those who lost their jobs and their healthcare and their pension savings. Listen to them."

Great talk - and to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, no less. They call that "going where the sinners are." And Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin did the same thing with the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, confronting them directly and calling them dishonest and "backward." Maybe Treasury officials thrive in captivity.

Whatever the reasons, the Geithner Treasury Department has suddenly come out swinging. They're pugilists in pinstripes now. But while the rhetoric's encouraging, Geithner's record is cloudy at best. He's been criticized for being too cozy with leading bankers, both at Treasury and in his old role at the Federal Reserve Bank of New york. He's resisted those in the Administration pushing for stronger reforms. He has yet to weigh on clearly on new revelations about the failure of Lehman Brothers and his own role in it. His Congressional testimony yesterday on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could best be described as "vehemently noncommital," as he called for an end to those institutions' "ambiguity" while being ambiguous about the best course of action.

Tim Geithner, we hardly know ye.

And if we don't know the Treasury Secretary, we can't fully understand the Administration's financial policy. If the White House is going to succeed in leading the reform effort Tim Geithner needs to do two things: He needs to let the public (and Congress) know where the Administration stands on some key issues, fleshing out the populist talk with policy detail. And he needs to address questions about his past performance, as uncomfortable as that may be. If he doesn't, you can bet that the opponents of real reform will - now, and even more forcefully in November.

We have two sets of questions for the Secretary. Today's address policy and oversight, and the questions on New York and Lehman will come shortly. But we could use your help. We've listed seven topics, but that barely begins to cover it. What would you add, or change? What other areas should be explored? With that, here is Round One of "Ask the Treasury Secretary."


1. Do you agree with Alan Greenspan, who now says that "if they're too big to fail, they're too big"?

If so, why did you appear to soft-pedal needed reforms like the original "Volcker rule" even as the Administration was introducing them? Do you regret those actions? Does your new rhetoric indicate that you've learned since then? Or is the change only rhetorical?

2. Do you support the Brown Amendment on "too big to fail"?

In line with Mr. Greenspan's concerns and in the spirit of the Volcker Rules, Sen. Sherrod Brown has introduced an amendment (pdf) that would prevent any bank holding company from holding non-deposit liabilities that total more than three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. (It would also give Republican critics of the Dodd draft bill the opportunity to vote for the kind of restrictions they say that they want.)

Three percent is a very large number. Do you agree in principle with this kind of prohibition on institutions becoming too large? If not, please clarify your opinion on "too big to fail" - should it be reduced slowly through some other means, gently discouraged, or permitted but taxed to pay for any future insolvencies?

3. Do you support reducing the amount people owe on their houses, if they owe more than their house is worth and can't afford it?

Bank of America has just announcedthat it will reduce the principal owed on some mortgages, if people have missed two months or more of payments and the house is now worth 20% or more less than it was when the loan was issued.

Do you support the idea of principal reductions? There are reports that the Treasury Department is looking into doing something similar. If so, what's the delay? Are you concerned that these programs create bad incentives? Do you support the concept but believe eligibility should be determined differently?

Or is the problem not being treated with enough urgency?

4. Do we pay our bank examiners enough?

The Wall Street Journal's Dennis Berman visited the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and reported that bank examiners there earned $40,000 to $140,000. Their jobs require enormous financial sophistication, and they're going up against bankers with seven-figure salaries and enormous resources at their disposal.

Are our front-line regulators compensated well enough for what they do? And are they given the tools they need to do their jobs? That includes staff, information technology, investigators ... all of it.

To sum up: What are we doing to ensure that our "financial first responders" are adequately compensated and equipped for their enormous responsibilities?

5. Do you agree with critics of the Dodd proposal who say his consumer protection "bureau" wouldn't have protected us from the last financial crisis?

One avenue of criticism is summarized well here: That Dodd's proposed "bureau," whose decisions would be subject to veto by an Oversight Council, would not have been able to prevent unorthodox mortgage products from being introduced had it tried in 2005.

Are you willing to state that the Dodd proposal does not provide adequate consumer protection, and is the Administration willing to expend political capital on the Hill to get something stronger?

6. Should JPMorganChase be allowed to get a $1.4 billion tax break after taking TARP funds?

JPMorganChase is trying to use a loophole to avoi paying $1.4 billion in taxes, using a tax break that allowed companies to write off their losses on five years of income, rather than two. The law specifically excludes companies like Chase that took TARP funds. But Chase bought Washington Mutual and wants to use its exclusion. They bought Washington Mutual for $1.9 billion, and now they want $1.4 billion in tax breaks.

Do you support or oppose this tax break for an institution that received TARP funds?

7. When do you expect to have a proposal on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

Your opponents are making hay with the Administration's delay in rolling out a new plan. The policy vacuum creates an opening for some dangerous rhetoric about taking the government out of the mortgage business entirely,. Yet your only announcement in yesterday's testimony was that you plan to issue a "request for comment" on April 15.

This is painfully reminiscent of the endless rounds of dialog that preceded health reform, dragging the process out and making the reform process even more difficult than it had to be. We understand that it's a complex issue. We also understand that you don't want to panic the markets. But the Administration has been in place for over a year. Even the head of the Federal Housing Commissionhas had to concede that "We are at the point right now where no one trusts the American housing finance system."

When can we expect your proposal on the reorganization of Fannie and Freddie?

Secretary Geithner's time at the New York Fed will be the subject of our next "Ask the Treasury Secretary." In the meantime, let's "crowdsource" this project a little more. What would you ask the Treasury Secretary if you had the chance?

Originally posted to RJ Eskow on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:02 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Really good post here! Many thanks for this... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...I'd ask Timmy...

      How do you explain the fact that you're supposedly advocating for Main Street now, while you continue to support banking policies that all but completely encourage banks to (not lend) build and maintain increased reserves? And, do you think an American with  an IQ higher than the temperature (on a cold day) doesn't see this blatant hypocrisy?

      It's being widely acknowledged that we're in a jobless recovery with the greatest disparity in personal wealth this country's seen (between the haves and the have-nots) since 1928. Furthermore, most projections call for these numbers to get worse, eclipsing the all-time record for disparity, over coming months, as well. So, where are the policies to correct this outrageous travesty?

      "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

      by bobswern on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:48:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'd ask him (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      to step down and turn himself in to the authorities to await prosecution on fraud charges.

      Mal: "...So then the Shepherd says to the Companion, "Well, a good goat'll do that."

      by crose on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 10:17:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Timmah serves at the pleasure of the (0+ / 0-)

    President.  If the President tells him to advocate for something, it's his job to do so.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:04:39 PM PDT

  •  Hey Tim! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Why you so crooked, dawg?  Don't you know money cain't get you into heaven?  

    Or something like that.  

    "In our century, we've learned not to fear words" - Lt. Uhura

    by ShempLugosi on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:16:00 PM PDT

  •  Are They Letting You Have Enough Exercise? nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:21:41 PM PDT

  •  How about Lehman's phantom $50 Billion? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    How did that slip under your radar when you were at the NY Fed?

    You know, "Repo 150"??

    When is somebody going to jail?

  •  ever heard of eyebrow pencils? n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "I have lived with several Zen masters -- all of them cats." - Eckhart Tolle

    by catnip on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:26:39 PM PDT

  •  I'll gladly pay you on Tuesday (0+ / 0-)

    for a hamburger, today!

    This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no foolin' around!

    by Snud on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:30:54 PM PDT

  •  Can I have fifty bucks... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Thinking Fella, bigchin

    mother fucker?

  •  I've got a friend who's a junior reporter... (0+ / 0-) a local newspaper. He sits in with the other reporters when they interview public figures, and every once in a while asks a follow-up question that, almost without fail, leaves the interviewee sitting with a deer in the headlights look followed by a barely coherent, sputtering answer:


    "I set up a stage, put up a few banners, stuck a podium up there, and started shouting 'Yes we can.' Next thing you know there's 150,000 people here." -Joe

    by Geiiga on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:36:34 PM PDT

  •  after his statement the other day, some (4+ / 0-)
    redneck Republican guy asked Geithner about privitization.  Typical right-wing talking point.

    As Thomas Frank has mentioned, these motherfucking conservatives love to talk about the "free market" and "laissez faire."  They want "less government in business and more business in government."  

    [C]onservatism has always been an expression of business.  Absorbing this fact is a condition to understanding the movement; it is anterior to everything else conservatism has been over the years.  To try to understand conservatism without taking into account its grounding in business thought--to depict is as, say, the political style of an unusually pious nation or an extreme dedication to the principle of freedom--is like setting off to war with maps of the wrong country.  Yes, there have been exceptions, and yes, the conservative coalition has changed over the years, but through it all a handful of characteristics have remained steadfast: a commitment to the ideal of laissez-faire, meaning minimal government interference in the marketplace, along with hostility to taxation, regulation, organized labor, state ownership, and all the business community's other enemies.  Laissez-faire has never described political reality all that well, since conservative governments have intervened in the economy with some regularity, subsidizing railroad construction, putting down strikes, adjusting tariffs, and propping up the gold standard.  But as a theory of society, laissez-faire has always been persuasive to the business class.  The free-market way was nature's way, conservatism held; the successful succeeded because they damned well deserved to succeed.

    [However, when you realize how easily "the public face of conservatism change[s] so radically" that "it [is] difficult sometimes... to understand that it [is] still conservatism" with prominent conservatives railing against a new enemy-of-the-month and hailing some new-found aspect of the free market..]  These people all [seem] to change, but their essential political views [do] not.... Their superficial changeability reveals a truth about American conservatism generally: The interests of business are central and defining, while every other aspect or strategy of the movement is mutable and disposable.  Indeed, even the cult of the free market, which appears to be such a solid, fixed element of the business mind, is malleable as well, with conservatism whining for bailouts and high tariff walls when those seem like the way to maximize profits.  The justifications for laissez-faire have varied more widely still, swinging from the savage philosophy of social Darwinism a hundred years ago to the market populism of our own time, in which business is just a way to empower the noble common people.


    The needs of business stand like a rock; all else is convenience, opportunism, a bit of bushwah generated by some focus group session and forgotten the instant it is no longer convincing.  Fundamentally amoral, capitalism is loyal to no people, no region, no heroes, really, once they have exhausted their usefulness--not even to the nation whose flag the wingers pretend to worship.

    Mr. Geithner, haven't the depressions of 1929 and 2007 proven the point that the conservative idea of unregulated freemarkets doesn't work?  It's not a matter of ideology, sir, but of economic history, of empiricism: less government in business is bad.  

    Businesses have no loyalty to the idea of a nation or its people.  

    Businesses only care about making profits, to hell with American workers and the American middle class.  

    Business is not democracy.  

    Reaganomics doesn't work.

  •  When will new currency be printed... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Thinking Fella

    with your signature?  I'm tired of seeing the signatures of Bush appointees John Snow and Hank Paulson on all my money.

    There are of course more signifcant issues that Geithner should answer for, but I doubt he would.

    Barack Obama in the Oval Office: There's a black man who knows his place.

    by Greasy Grant on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:40:08 PM PDT

  •  I'd like to ask him (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1. What are your plans to rein in the abuses of the rating agencies, such as Moody's and Standard & Poor's?
    1. What penalties will be enforced when state and federal overseers abdicate their responsibilities and become too cozy with those they are supposed to regulate?
    1. What plans do you have have to enforce criminal penalties against financial lawbreakers - both individuals and corporations (which are also individuals) - rather than merely civil?

    Tea Party H8riots - that ain't America

    by MKSinSA on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 09:40:26 PM PDT

  •  I have no questions for the secretary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nancelot, bigchin

    I spent about three months studying about him, trying to figure out who he is and what he stands for. Not that it meant anything, but I even had the pictures of his house posted to a realty site when it was for sale. (Sometimes you can tell a lot about someone by their house. Take these photos of Rush Limbaugh's house for example.)

    What I discovered about Geithner is that he's an empty suit. Just another oligarchical technocrat doing what his Ivy League education indoctrinated him to do, which is to excel in the system by working to preserve the system.

    I've been listening to the Tim Geithnews of the world on NPR for 30 years. The minute one of them surprises me, I'll smack myself senseless.

  •  "Are you crazy?" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That's what I'd ask.  Plain, simple and to the point.

    If you want to know the real answer: Just ask a Mom.

    by tacklelady on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 10:12:59 PM PDT

  •  Interesting Geithner profile in the Atlantic (0+ / 0-) Joshua Green.

    I would have been inclined to join in the Geithner hatin' I see in these comments before. Now I'm less sure, FWIW. Interesting guy, and like his boss, he's way further corporate/right than I would like, but (also like his boss) he listens, and sees, and thinks.

    And there is no doubt he serves at the pleasure of the President.


  •  If I could borrow a few million dollars since (0+ / 0-)

    I had to give all of MY Money to bail out his banks :)

    "We have passed beyond the absurd, our position is absolutely preposterous" - Ron Tavel

    by KnotIookin on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 10:51:29 PM PDT

  •  How bad is it, really? (0+ / 0-)

    Just how crooked are these guys?  How stupid?  How close were we to a financial meltdown?  How close are we now?  Why haven't we dumped all you Goldman Sachs clones and brought in someone halfway honest?

  •  well I'd ask him (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1. how many people does his group plan to hire to enforce the existing rules and regulations that are in place, if new ones are enacted, how will you enforce them and do you plan to hire people who will "follow the money" and refrain from making this a refuge for the very people who created the original crisis?
    1. are you prepared to go to court if you find wrongdoing in the financial community that you are supposed to regulate?
    1. Will you work "hand in hand" with the newly proposed "consumer affairs regulatory agency" to prevent the abuse of illegal and misleading credit practices and credit lending?
    1. How will you handle the processing of those "toxic assets" out in the marketplace?  Is there any plan to turn over those properties to other government agencies or make those dwellings/buildings/properties available to the public (after all, we "own" them) for their use instead of turning them over to the financial institutions for them to work the same deals again? I could se where we could be creative in usage for a lot of these properties if given the chance (say convert them to HUD or VA properties)

    I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused - Elvis Costello "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes"

    by piratedan on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 11:02:35 PM PDT

  •  I wouldn't ask Geithner anything (0+ / 0-)
    He has no answers.

    Illegal Alien: Term used by the descendents of foreign colonizers to refer to the descendents of indigenous people

    by mojada on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 11:22:00 PM PDT

  •  can I have $40,000 in taxes owed erased too (0+ / 0-)


    "History is a tragedy, not a melodrama." - I.F.Stone

    by bigchin on Wed Mar 24, 2010 at 11:59:44 PM PDT

  •  I wouldnt have the first clue what to ask (0+ / 0-)


    You're watching Fox News. OH MY GOD--LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU

    by rexymeteorite on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 02:38:07 AM PDT

  •  What I would ask (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Charles CurtisStanley

    To Mr. Geithner:
    Do you agree with Ben Bernanke's statement that Congress should go after Social Security and Medicare because "that's where the money is", rather than raising tax rates on the very wealthiest Americans? Why or why not? If you think we should do something else instead, what is that?

    Living kidney donor needed; type B, O, or incompatible (with paired donation). Drop me a note (see profile).

    by Kitsap River on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 03:10:21 AM PDT

  •  I would ask him... (0+ / 0-)

    Why do you hate Americans?

    St. Ronnie was an asshole.

    by manwithnoname on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 06:01:00 AM PDT

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