Senators Grill Geithner Again on New Financial Plan: Graham Tells Him, ‘You Have No Clue’

Feb 11, 2009 2:07pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports: After getting grilled by Republican senators for close to four hours Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner returned to Capitol Hill today to face more questions about the lack of detail in the government’s financial stability plan, but Geithner’s second stint was no smoother than his first. One lawmaker, pressing to find out if Treasury would ask for more money to right the financial ship, told Geithner, "You have no clue."

"Many of us were looking forward to a plan that could be presented in a straightforward, clear and detailed way," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "Unfortunately, that is not what we received yesterday."

"The reviews yesterday were not good," he noted, telling Geithner, "I hope you can use the hearing today to put some meat on the bones."

But at this morning’s Senate Budget Committee hearing, the Treasury chief would go no further than the "broad framework" that he outlined yesterday.

"I completely understand the desire for details and commitments," he told lawmakers. "But we’re going to do this carefully, consult carefully so we don’t put ourselves in the position again where we’re laying out details ahead of the care and substance necessary to get it right."

Later Geithner noted, "If it means that there’s disappointment, then I will live with the disappointment."

While he would not provide more details about the plan at today’s hearing, Geithhner did emphasize to Congress that the Treasury would work fast to address the nation’s financial crisis.

"A failure to act with force and speed would be much more costly to the families and businesses across the country," he warned.

Some Republican lawmakers, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are tired of waiting for more information. Graham said he expected the Treasury to ask Congress for more money than the remaining $313 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), so today he urged Geithner to go ahead and just submit that request right now.

"I can’t tell you that at this point, but if we think there’s a good case for doing it, we’re going to come tell you how we’re going to do it," replied Geithner.

"Okay, good, so you have no clue," Graham said with disgust.

"No, that’s not the case, senator," said Geithner. "What I will not do is even if you are frustrated by — "

"See, I just don’t believe that that’s enough money to fix housing and banking and I just wish you would say that," interrupted Graham. "Because you’re going to come up here and ask us for more money, I know you will."

Another contentious exchange came when independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wanted Geithner to call for the ouster of Wall Street chief executives, such as Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who testified across Capitol Hill today on the House side.

"You have a person who made hundreds of millions for himself and he led his institution and helped cause a great financial crisis," said Sanders. "We have put as taxpayers $10 billion to bail him out and we have no say as to whether or not he will stay on the job?"

"I did not say that," noted Geithner. "I think there will be circumstances, as there have been already, where the government intervention will have to come with very tough conditions including changes in management leadership of institutions. And where we believe that makes sense, we will do that."

"I just asked you if you believe that’s the case with Goldman Sachs," pressed Sanders.

"In this case I’m not gonna change my answer, but I want to just say one thing: I feel deeply offended by the judgments you’ve seen these board of directors make," Geithner replied.

"But we’re not gonna fire the leadership?" Sanders asked. "And we’re gonna keep these same guys who caused the crisis in power and who made huge sums of money?"

"Where we think that is the most effective strategy for our country, we’ll do that," Geithner said.

"I strongly disagree," argued Sanders. "I think the American people — if they’re going to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into these institutions — want a new slate of leadership."

– Matthew Jaffe

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