WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Timothy Geithner as secretary of the Treasury, clearing the way for the full Senate to consider his confirmation.
Geithner, who would lead the Treasury Department as U.S. financial markets and the economy are facing the most serious turbulence in decades, was approved by a vote of 18 to 5.
He has been under fire, especially from some Senate Republicans, for failing to pay payroll taxes on income received from the International Monetary Fund in 2001 and then repeating his error in three subsequent years. He apologized to the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, but said his mistakes were unintentional.
Geithner, who headed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has also faced questions about his involvement with the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program. He said Wednesday that the Obama administration is considering using funds to buy toxic assets from financial institutions.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that he hopes to see the Senate consider Geithner's nomination "as soon as possible," but conceded that Senate action on Thursday is unlikely. Geithner's nomination could take several days to consider in the Senate, because of the likely difficulty in obtaining consent for a speedy vote given the controversy surrounding Geithner's tax filings.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, cast a notable vote against Geithner's nomination Thursday. Kyl called into question Geithner's forthrightness in answering the committee's questions on his personal tax situation.
"I'm sad to say, because I very much wanted to support his nomination, that at this point I don't think the requisite candor exists to indicate my support for him with an affirmative vote," Kyl said.
Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Jim Bunning, R-Ky.; Pat Roberts, R-Kan; and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., also voted against Geithner's nomination. Grassley, who had expressed concerns about Geithner's tax filings since they came to light, is the top Republican on the Senate Finance panel.
Baucus maintained that Geithner had done enough to answer questions about his taxes.
"At a private meeting last week and again [Wednesday], Senators have had ample opportunity to ask Mr. Geithner about errors in his tax returns," Baucus said. "I believe that Mr. Geithner has taken appropriate steps to remedy what were honest mistakes."
Most panel members expressed reservations about Geithner's mistakes in his tax filings, but few said it was enough to disqualify Geithner. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who served as North Dakota's tax commissioner before his election to the Senate, said that he would support Geithner only because of the grave economic times.
"I find it completely unacceptable," Conrad said of Geithner's tax problems. "In normal times, that alone would lead me to oppose his confirmation."