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Marketplace Scratch Pad

The new Treasury Secretary

Scott Jagow Oct 30, 2009

No, Tim Geithner hasn’t been replaced. He just seemed different this week, like maybe the guy testifying to Congress was an imposter wearing a Tim Geithner mask. It is Halloween, you know.

From Time:

Last spring when he had just started as Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner came across as timid, uncertain and a little small in front of the TV cameras and on Capitol Hill. Flash forward to his appearance Thursday morning before the House Financial Services Committee and Geithner was hardly recognizable: he interrupted the members, rolled his eyes, shot questions back, spoke over them and even ignored the chairman himself as he pounded the gavel.

What’s got into Geithner? The short answer: a deadline. With their energy bill stalled, health care dragging out and other initiatives pushed aside, financial reform is a high priority for an Administration in search of wins. Geithner’s bosses at the White House are pushing to get a bill to the President for his signature by the end of the year, and Geithner is the point man in making that happen.

If yesterday was any indication, Geithner’s up against it, and maybe that’s a good thing. Some members of Congress attacked the Administration’s TBTF plan for a lack of transparency. FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair said regulators weren’t getting enough power.

These are valid concerns and should not be skipped over, no matter what the Administration’s deadline is. The transparency problem is that the plan would keep the list of Too Big to Fail banks and their health a secret. More about that on today’s After the Bell podcast. I’ll be talking with Henry Blodget of the Business Insider. He has some alternative ideas for resolving TBTF, like changing capital requirements. Hopefully, Congress will consider those ideas as well. More from Time:

Geithner’s biggest advantage is that the politics of reform are on his side, as he told the big bankers last week. Americans aren’t much interested in details, but any appearance of moving forward on reform will have support, while those who try to slow the Administration down will appear to be siding with the big banks and Wall Street. That view is supported by a new TIME poll conducted in association with research firm Abt SRBI, which shows that 62% of Americans believe financial reforms need to be toughened.

Uh, I’m interested in details, and I’m guessing you are as well. We’re seeing the same problem with health care reform. The attitude is — just get something passed.

But the Administration’s solution to TBTF isn’t a fix. It doesn’t change anything from last year: The feds would monitor the TBTF banks behind closed doors, telling us only what they think we should know and assuring us that whatever they decide to do is for our own good.

If Geithner’s push for a “win” results in that kind of solution, then it’ll be a loss for the American people.

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