This afternoon, the Senate is scheduled to take up the nomination of Timothy Geithner to be Treasury Secretary. The debate promises be brief. By unanimous consent, the Senate has allotted just one hour to Democrats and one hour to Republicans; after that, the Geithner nomination will come to a vote, and Geithner is expected to be confirmed by a wide margin.
Why such a brief debate over the nomination when even one Senate Democrat termed Geithner’s tax problems “completely unacceptable“? (To read about those tax issues, go here, and here, and here, and here.) The reason is, Republicans have decided not to fight. One key Senate Republican told me last week that members of the minority party have just so much ammunition, and using it against a cabinet official who serves at the pleasure of the president is not as wise as saving it to use against, say, a judicial nominee seeking a lifetime appointment to the bench. While that is good news for conservatives who hope Republicans will fight if Barack Obama nominates a series of liberals to the federal courts of appeals, it also helps create a new standard in which tax problems which would surely have disqualified any past nominee will now be acceptable in a Treasury Secretary. The “Gosh, I don’t really know why I didn’t pay my taxes” defense will now have the imprimatur of the man who oversees the Internal Revenue Service.
No doubt some Republicans will vote against Geithner; five GOP senators voted against him in the Finance Committee. But even if all 41 Senate Republicans were to vote against him — which would never happen — the Democrats’ large majority in the Senate and apparently unanimous support for Geithner guarantees that he will be Treasury Secretary Geithner by this evening.