Doubts about Geithner persist
Lagging poll numbers for the Treasury secretary reflect continuing anger over bank bailouts.
Next time he testifies before Congress, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner might want to case the room first.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On Tuesday, protestors snagged the seats behind him prior to a hearing on US bank bailout policies. On C-SPAN, viewers saw Secretary Geithner defending administration actions – while a pink placard saying “GIVE US OUR $$$$$ BACK” waved right behind his head.
One hundred days into the Obama administration, the president himself remains hugely popular. According to polls, the US public trusts him to do the right things to fight the recession now gripping the nation.
But the president’s boyish, wonky Treasury chief? Not so much. Geithner’s public ratings are not as high as those of his boss. Nor are poll respondents so sure they like what he’s doing.
It’s a disparity that could hint at trouble to come. Geithner’s polls may reflect widespread anger about the financial industry rescue he oversees, more than unease with him personally. And that anger could limit White House options for further action as it continues to try to stabilize the nation’s credit system.
“People are angry because they are paying for programs that haven’t been fully explained.… They want to see that taxpayer money is used to advance the public interest, and not just the interest of Wall Street,” said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and chairman of the Congressional Oversight Panel, at Geithner’s April 21 appearance before the panel.
A crucial time for Geithner
Right now, Geithner is entering a period that could represent a turning point in his bank bailout efforts.
This weekend, he huddles with global finance chiefs and central bankers at International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Washington. Meanwhile, US bank regulators are set to release details of the assumptions behind their so-called “stress tests” of banks, which are intended to see whether big financial institutions have enough capital to survive in the long term.
Actual results of the tests for the biggest banks are not supposed to be released until May 4. It is unclear what the administration will do if a number of big institutions are deemed shaky.
“In dealing with the banks that emerge the weakest from the stress test, regulators are constrained both by limited authority and limited funds,” notes a Goldman Sachs April 23 analysis.
The Treasury has already committed most of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP), according to Goldman Sachs. President Obama put a marker in his proposed budget for hundreds of billions more in bailout money, but given the current wave of populist ire about executive bonuses and other perceived Wall Street excesses, it’s uncertain if Congress will approve more bailout money.