What does it mean when a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat both call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to be fired? Is it a sign that he's lost the confidence of both parties and should be immediately disposed of? Or is it confirmation that he is steering safely down the middle of the river, while the left and the right banks seethe with rage?
This morning, the normally almost supernaturally composed Geithner got into it with Texas Republican Kevin Brady, a pillar of the conservative right, during a Joint Economic Committee hearing in Congress.
The Wall Street Journal's Damien Palleta has the transcript:
Mr. Brady opened up his questioning by telling Mr. Geithner Republicans, Democrats, and the American people had lost confidence in the Treasury Secretary and asked him to resign.
"It is a great privilege to serve this president," Mr. Geithner responded. "I agree with almost nothing you said."
Mr. Geithner then took it a step further: "You gave this president an economy falling off the cliff."
Mr. Brady wasn't done: "Remind me, Mr. Secretary, what post were you holding when President Obama took office?"
Geithner: "I was the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York."
Brady then accused him of "shirking responsibility for the design of this bailout."
Mr. Geithner said the government's steps were "absolutely necessary to break the back of this financial panic." He said without the Obama administration's steps, "you would have an economy still falling, not growing."
Meanwhile, last night, Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, a staunch member of the House's progressive caucus took some hard swings at Geithner for paying more attention to Wall Street than to Main Street during an MSNBC interview with Ed Schultz. He finished by calling for both Larry Summers and Geithner to be fired, saying with a smirk, "We may have to sacrifice just two more jobs to get millions back for Americans."
Brady, of course, is mad that Congress passed a stimulus bill while DeFazio is furious that the stimulus bill wasn't even bigger. Hard to satisfy both those constituencies... My own opinion is that conservative Democratic Senators are a far greater obstacle to direct government assistance to Main Street than either Summers or Geithner, and I agree with the Treasury Secretary that the financial panic had to be broken with extreme measures or we would be in a much worse position now than we already are. But, as noted by DeFazio, Geithner's performance during the AIG bailout can be easily faulted and the pivot that the entire White House is making towards emphasizing deficit reduction is ill-timed and insensitive to what this country really needs right now.
Ultimately, I seriously doubt whether President Obama will heed either the conservatives or the progressives at this point. I'm betting he continues on with his team intact. But like everything else, the political future of the White House and all his economic advisers can be pinned to one economic indicator -- the unemployment rate. The further up it goes, the hotter the kitchen will get.