If Tim Geithner was a basketball player, the coach would probably bench him for a half a quarter or so.
While White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that President Obama was not “blind-sided” by the information about the AIG bonuses, we’re left with a couple of clear signs of miscommunication between the Treasury Department and the White House. Geithner was informed last Tuesday about the bonuses, the president was informed Thursday, the bonuses were sent out Friday, the story broke Sunday, and Obama became “choked up” with anger before the cameras on Monday. At that point, the president pledged to look at every avenue to get the money back, even through Treasury officials had already concluded earlier in the day that there weren’t any legal avenues to recoup the funds.
This led to the White House insisting yesterday evening that they have complete confidence in Geithner and that his job is not in danger. (Start the jokes: “In this economy, how is it possible the one guy who’s not in danger of losing his job is Tim Geithner?”)
Firing Geithner is not an option, even if it’s deserved. The problem is, to extend the basketball metaphor, it’s not that Treasury has a weak bench; it has no bench. There’s no deputy, no assistant secretaries, no undersecretaries. (Okay, they just brought in Citigroup’s chief economist, position not yet clear.) If Geithner disappeared, there would be no clear successor. Obama has a 15-member Economic Advisory Board, but very few who have been willing to step in and take things off Geithner’s overloaded plate. And for an administration that knew on Election Day that the economy and TARP management would be major issues — four and a half months ago! — not having more nominees ready to step in at Treasury is unforgivable.
Geithner needs to be rapped on the knuckles; insufficient oversight of AIG is a significant screw-up. But in the end, the AIG bonus mess reflects Obama taking his eye off the ball.