During one of the worst economic times in recent memory, it seems that President Barack Obama’s economic team is leaving at a rapid pace. Scanning the top five economic positions in President Obama’s inner circle; you see new faces or no faces. The one consistent since January 2009 has been U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Secretary Geithner has recently been considering joining others like Larry Summers, Austan Goolsbee, and Christina Romer as part of an economic exodus from the White House.
Geithner eased some of the anxiety at the White House a few days ago by stating his intentions to stay at the Treasury Department until at least the end of 2012 and the next presidential election.
The speculation of disparture arose late last year and early this year as the debt ceiling debate neared. He has looked to stay the course during its debates and once the deadline was extended from April to August; some thought the rough climate and challenges would cause Geithner to ask Obama to step aside after August 2nd. Geithner’s decision to stay fell right around the same time that Standard and Poor’s decided to downgrade the country’s credit rating from AAA to AA+. That decision has only complicated what has been a tough job throughout his term and that will likely not change for the next year.
Geithner came to the White House after serving the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. During his time there, he worked with both President George W. Bush’s U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke during the 2008 economic crisis, which featured bailouts and assistance to banks and mortgage companies. Over a decade of experience within the U.S. Treasury Department and the Fed made Geithner a logical choice for President Obama on many grounds despite some critics of Geithner voicing their opposition.
Now that Geithner has lessened the speculation of his early departure, President Obama will have at least a year if not longer with at least some stability amongst his economic advisors. However, that has not stopped some from eyeing Geithner’s job especially since he could easily change his mind before January 2013.
One of the potential candidates to follow Geithner if he were to leave his post before President Obama’s tenure in office is over is former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. Before being elected New Jersey’s governor in 2005 and the U.S. Senate in 2000, Corzine spent three decades in the private sector. Corzine’s name was tossed around three ago after President Obama was elected and was considering amongst potential individuals to head the U.S. Treasury Department.
Since losing to Governor Chris Christie in November 2009, Corzine has worked with New York investment firm MF Global while still eyeing Geithner’s job if he were to resign. Corzine’s selection and election if he were to follow Geithner would be a sticky situation on multiple fronts. Corzine’s time out of office has been linked to Wall Street and Wall Street’s continued culture of corruption could drag Corzine’s name down. Corzine has been a CEO of Goldman Sachs and now with MF Global; he continues to have a presence on Wall Street. Additionally, confirmation hearings held in early 2009 were relatively calm; but as seen with the confirmation process for someone like Elizabeth Warren, for instance; partisanship in the nation’s capital is worse than ever. The economic future could also cause Geithner’s successor much scrutiny before, during, and even after the confirmation process.
As with any speculation, there are deniers amongst those close to Corzine. Josh Zeitz, a Corzine spokesman, denies any such consideration by Corzine. As Zeitz stated,
“This has all been idle speculation. It’s just another example of how the 24-hour news cycle, when it has nothing else to report, finds a bunch of coincidental evidence.”
While Julie Roginsky, a top Democratic strategist, points out how Corzine experience on Wall Street might serve as an aide not a hindrance during his confirmation process while still acknowledging what Wall Street represents. For Roginsky,
“As much as Wall Street is unpopular these days, they are a huge driver of the world economy and the Treasury secretary has to understand how it works. However Goldman Sachs has become a poster child for everything that’s wrong with Wall Street.”
It will be interesting to see how Geithner approaches his position and role in Obama’s cabinet and if he were to leave before or around the 2012 presidential election; would Corzine throw his name into the consideration. Corzine has fundraised with Obama in 2009 and has already started assisting Obama for 2012. That rapport could influence if Obama decides to pick Corzine. Throughout it all, Corzine’s past and current time on Wall Street could serve as a backdrop and likely will only complicate what will be a heated confirmation process whether it is Corzine or someone else. Putting the right person to head the Treasury Department is of utmost importance during these tough economic days.