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Tax problems derail fast US Snate OK for nominee

  In this Jan. 5, 2009 file photo, Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner looks on at left as President-elect Barack Obama meets with members o...
  In this Nov. 24, 2008 file photo, Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner listens as President-elect Barack Obama speaks during a news confere...

Treasury Nominee

In this Jan. 5, 2009 file photo, Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner looks on at left as President-elect Barack Obama meets with members o...

Treasury Nominee

In this Nov. 24, 2008 file photo, Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner listens as President-elect Barack Obama speaks during a news confere...

Disclosures about Timothy Geithner's tax problems derailed Senate Democrats' plans Wednesday to speed him to confirmation as U.S. treasury secretary, but senators in both parties said the problems were unlikely to torpedo his chances to take a key post on President-elect Barack Obama's economic team.
Obama had hoped for approval by Tuesday, the day the new president is inaugurated, so Geithner could join other officials in urgent efforts to revive the failing national economy. Now, Geithner's confirmation hearing isn't scheduled until next Wednesday, with Senate debate and a vote sometime after that.
A top Republican objected to scheduling a confirmation hearing this Friday at the Senate Finance Committee after the panel disclosed Geithner had failed to pay $34,000 in taxes several years ago. Democrats were working to clear away the obstacle, holding out hope that he could still be confirmed the day Obama is sworn in.
Democrats and Republicans on the Finance Committee voiced strong support for Geithner, who was phoning senators individually in an effort to persuade them his tax problems were the result of innocent mistakes, not deliberate attempts to avoid paying the Internal Revenue Service.
Senators' comments suggested that Geithner's tax troubles are being viewed by lawmakers more as embarrassing mistakes than as disqualifying misdeeds. That is despite the fact that tax problems have sunk other government nominees, including Zoe Baird, Bill Clinton's choice for attorney general, who stepped aside when word leaked that she had hired illegal immigrants as household workers and failed to pay their Social Security taxes.
"It's an honest mistake," said Sen. Max Baucus, the Democrat who chairs the committee, adding that Geithner's confirmation was "a given."
Baucus said he still hoped for a Friday hearing. Geithner is "very, very competent, and add to that the country needs to have an economic team in place immediately to address the dire economic problems," he said.
Sen. Jon S. Kyl, the No. 2 Republican, is blocking the hearing by insisting on rules that require a full week's notice for scheduling such a session, according to an aide close to the confirmation process. Kyl's objection was disclosed on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to announce it.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the senior Finance Republican, said he was not inclined to oppose a quick hearing. He planned to meet individually with other Republican members of the panel to see whether they could agree on the Friday session.
"I'm going to see what collective judgment we have," Grassley said.
Whenever he goes before the Finance panel, Geithner _ whose myriad responsibilities in his new post would include authority over the Internal Revenue Service _ is likely to face a grilling about his tax errors.
He failed to pay self-employment taxes for money he earned from 2001 to 2004 while working for the International Monetary Fund, according to materials released by the committee Tuesday.
He paid some of the taxes in 2006, after an IRS audit discovered the discrepancy for taxes paid in 2003 and 2004. But it wasn't until much later _ days before Obama tapped him to head Treasury late last year _ that Geithner paid back most of the taxes, incurred in 2001 and 2002. He did so after Obama's transition team found that Geithner had made the same tax mistake his first two years at the IMF as the one the IRS found he made during his last two years there.
Despite the disclosures, several committee Republicans appeared to be leaning toward backing Geithner. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch called the tax problems "a mistake that a human being can make."
"I'm confident in the man's ability. I think he's a very fine man. I'm not one that holds mistakes against people," Hatch said.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who said he spoke with Geithner for about a half-hour Wednesday , said he did not foresee trouble for the nominee.
"I don't think I see enough in there to cause a problem," Ensign said. "It's very, very easy to make honest mistakes."
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, said he'd probably vote to confirm Geithner.
"I think he's a good man. I had a long visit with him," Roberts said. "I think he really knows his stuff."
Still, Roberts acknowledged that Geithner's tax troubles could cause a perception problem in the public and among lawmakers, likening it to the Big Three automobile chief executives who came to Washington on private jets to plead for government aid.
"It's a very bad thing for the guy that's running Treasury to be out there saying, 'I made a mistake. I forgot about it,'" said Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican. "The American public thinks that there's some people ... especially a lot of these guys on Wall Street, that have had it made in the shade."
Obama's team informed Baucus and Grassley of the problems in early December, and a subsequent investigation by their staffs unearthed another embarrassing detail about Geithner: that a housekeeper he employed in 2005 allowed her legal immigrant work status to lapse for three and a half months.
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Associated Press Writers Charles Babington, Jim Kuhnhenn, and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-07 16:30 GMT+08:00