By a vote of 60-34, the U.S. Senate confirmed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration on Monday, clearing the way for him to get to work on the U.S. economic crisis.
After the Senate vote and in a demonstration of support for his nominee, President Obama went to the Treasury Department Monday night where Geithner was sworn in by Vice President Joseph Biden.
"I came here tonight because at this moment of challenge and crisis, Tim's work and the work of the entire Treasury Department must begin at once," said President Obama. "We cannot lose a day because every day the economic picture is worsening, here and across the globe."
Saying the country and its economy are at a moment of "maximum challenge," Geithner pledged to get to work.
"To launch the programs that will bring economic recovery sooner, to make our economy more productive and more just in the opportunities it provides our citizens, to restore trust in our financial system with fundamental reform," said Timothy Geithner.
Geithner was head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and has extensive experience in the Treasury Department.
Despite what he has called his "careless mistake" in failing to pay several years of self-employment taxes while working for the International Monetary Fund, the Senate voted to confirm his nomination.
Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida underscored the urgency of confirming Geithner, saying he will have the job of ensuring accountability and transparency in government financial rescue programs.
"There is not a more important mandate than for him to crack the whip and make sure this federal money, this public money, this taxpayer money, is being spent as it was intended in holding people accountable and reporting the results," said Bill Nelson.
However, Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky opposed the nomination, asserting that Geithner in previous roles did nothing to help prevent the U.S. financial meltdown.
"He went along with all the flawed monetary policy decisions of [former Federal Reserve Chairman] Alan Greenspan and [current Federal Reserve Chairman] Ben Bernanke, and he stretched the law beyond recognition to bail out [investment bank] Bear Stearns and later AIG [American International Group]," said Jim Bunning. "All those actions, or failure to act, raise questions about the nominee's judgment."
Opponents also questioned Geithner's role in the formulation of the much-criticized $700-billion financial institution rescue plan approved during the Bush administration.
Republican Mike Enzi said Geithner was not the right choice for the job.
"Mr. Geithner's career at the New York [Federal Reserve] should be described more as a financier of Wall Street than as a steward of the American taxpayer and monetary policy," said Mike Enzi.
But Senate Banking Committee Chairman Democrat Christopher Dodd argued that Geithner is qualified to handle the financial crisis.
"We are fortunate to have a talented individual who is willing to step and assume this responsibility," said Christopher Dodd. "And rather than decrying it, and lambasting him, we ought to be thanking him."
Geithner's confirmation comes as Congress prepares to take up the $825-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, a measure President Obama says is critical to preventing further economic recession.
The legislation, which the House of Representatives will consider this week, contains $275 billion in tax cuts and $550 billion in spending on domestic infrastructure projects, health care, education, science, energy and other areas.
While the bill is likely to win easy approval along party lines in the House, these remarks by Republican Frank Wolf and Democrat Peter DeFazio reflected the strong feelings about its cost and effectiveness:
Wolf: "By letting this stimulus legislation pass the House without addressing the underlying problem of out of control spending, we are evading our responsibility as members of Congress."
DeFazio: "We need more substantial investment. There is a lot of talk about 'shovel ready' [projects that can be implemented immediately], there is a lot of talk about infrastructure. We need to deliver on those promises. And thus far, this legislation that's being proposed falls short."
President Obama will use a Tuesday visit to Capitol Hill to try to ease concerns of Republicans who assert that the measure would fail to have the desired effect, and sharply expand deficit spending.
The announced elimination of jobs by several major U.S. companies on Monday will add tens of thousands of people to already record unemployment rolls.
President Obama said the new layoffs demonstrate the need for swift action on the economic recovery legislation.