Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner got such a torrent of angry criticism from Republican senators today that by the end of the hearing some Republicans lawmakers acknowledged how "tough" and "intense" it had been.
Acknowledged chairman Kent Conrad, D-ND, at the end of the hearing, "Mr. Secretary, you know, you can see what this is like. You know, it's pretty intense at times but, I think, very productive."
"Thank you for taking the job," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told him. "I know it's tough."
Graham added, "If you're looking for a way to serve the country, join the Marines or go to Treasury. I think they're both very difficult."
Graham's kind words, however, followed a firestorm of criticism as lawmakers repeatedly accused Geithner of failing to convince Americans that he had a plan to rescue the country's economy.
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"If you do have a plan, you haven't persuaded us yet, and until you persuade us, confidence won't come back," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., at today's Senate Budget Committee hearing.
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., led the way in pressing Geithner to unveil the details of his plans to fix the nation's foundering financial system.
"Where is your plan to rescue the United States system?" he asked. "We've been waiting for that."
Bunning also ripped Geithner for his involvement, as chief of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in creating the government's much-criticized Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"You were part of the problem. You were the head of the Federal Bank of New York, you sat in on the meetings of TARP when it was decided. In fact they give you credit for it being your plan," Bunning said.
When Geithner attempted to reply, Bunning interrupted him, impatient to move on to more questioning and find out why the government has continued to bail out the struggling insurance giant AIG.
"Where is the bottom line to the American taxpayer dollar-wise?" Bunning asked, holding up a copy of AIG's confidential memo to regulators obtained Monday by ABC News.
Geithner defended the $160 billion AIG bailout.
"The bottom line is we have to make sure, given the severity of the crisis… to do everything necessary to protect against the risk that we have a disorderly failure of a major financial institution. Just look back at what happened in the fall," Geithner said, referring to the economy's downward spiral when Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail last year.
"I did, I disagreed completely with what you did," retorted Bunning.
The Kentucky lawmaker didn't stop there, as he then pressed Geithner on whether the government is in fact nationalizing the banks, adding sarcastically, "We don't call it nationalization because that's a bad word."
Geithner, not grasping Bunning's stance or line of questioning, then asked, "Senator, are you speaking in favor of nationalization or against it?"
"That's really funny," Bunning replied in a mix of disbelief and disgust.
"You said I skirted it, but you weren't praising me?" asked Geithner.
"No, I was not," Bunning responded bluntly.