WASHINGTON — Like a boxer under siege, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday rebuffed calls from Republicans to resign and slugged it out with lawmakers over Obama administration economic policies.
Geithner is on the hot seat with lawmakers because billions of stimulus dollars failed to stop the nation's unemployment rate from soaring to 10.2 percent, and for bank bailout decisions he made as the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
As Geithner appeared before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, pulled no punches.
"Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well. Poll after poll shows Americans have lost confidence in this president's ability to handle the economy. For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?" Brady asked.
Geithner began with a measured response, but quickly shifted to meet fire with fire.
"I agree with almost nothing in what you said, and I think almost nothing you said represents a fair and accurate perception of where this economy is today," Geithner replied.
Turning sarcastic and partisan, the normally reserved Geithner angrily reminded Brady that the crisis began on the watch of a Republican White House.
"Now I think it's important to start, to welcome this advice that you are providing, after you gave this president an economy falling off the cliff; values of American savings cut almost in half; millions of Americans out of work; again, the worst financial crisis we've seen in a generation," Geithner said.
Brady interrupted: "Remind me Mr. Secretary, what post were you holding when President (George W.) Bush left office?"
The answer is president of the New York Fed, where Geithner had close relations with the Wall Street banks that helped to create the financial crisis, and where he made unpopular decisions such as rescuing failed insurer American International Group.
This week, a special inspector general confirmed what McClatchy reported in April — that Geithner's New York Fed paid off at face value, instead of at a lower rate, all the risky bets AIG had made with Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs.
After the heated personal exchange, the two resumed sparring over the economy.
"Congressman, again it's just a basic fact, a year ago, a year ago, this economy was falling at the rate of 6 percent a year. We were losing between half a million and three quarters of a million jobs a month and that process was accelerating, not slowing," until President Barack Obama took office, Geithner said.
Interrupting again, Brady said, "Mr. Secretary, the public has lost all confidence in your ability to do your job, and it's reflecting on your president," adding that it's "really time for a fresh start and I would urge you to consider that."
Another Texas Republican, Rep. Michael Burgess, jumped into the act.
"I don't think you should be fired. I thought you never should have been hired," Burgess said.
The panel's Democrats didn't immediately rush to defend Geithner, although the committee chairman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., later came to his defense.
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