Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner finds himself in a familiar position: eager to resume life outside government and facing contentious negotiations with Congress over raising the federal debt ceiling.
The last time he was in this predicament, in June 2011, President Barack Obama persuaded him to stay. This time, Geithner has indicated to White House officials he wants to carry through with his plan to leave the administration by the end of this month, even if a deal on the debt limit isn’t in place, according to two people familiar with the matter
Geithner’s departure would increase pressure on the president to name his successor at Treasury. White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew remains the leading contender for the Treasury job, according to the people, who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks.
Geithner, 51, is the only remaining member of Obama’s original economic team and was a key figure in the taxpayer- funded bailouts during the 2008 financial crisis. He’s also had a principal role in negotiations with Congress on the budget deal and in past deliberations over the debt ceiling.
Because Lew’s experience in financial markets is thin, Obama may seek to name a Wall Street executive as deputy Treasury secretary, the people said.
While Lew, 57, worked as a managing director for Citigroup from July 2006 until the end of 2008, he’s spent most of his career in government. He has served as director of the Office of Management and Budget for both Obama and President Bill Clinton. Prior to that, he was an aide to the late Tip O’Neill, former speaker of the U.S. House.
Administration officials had approached American Express Co. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Chenault about joining Obama’s second-term cabinet, possibly as Treasury secretary. Chenault has indicated to the administration he isn’t interested in leaving the private sector, according to one of the people, and a spokesman said he plans to stay at the company.
“Ken has no plans to leave American Express,” said Michael O’Neill, a spokesman for New York-based company, declining further comment.
A White House spokeswoman, Amy Brundage, declined to comment on personnel matters. Jenni LeCompte, a Treasury spokeswoman, also declined to comment.
Obama will have several top administration jobs to fill as he begins his second term.
He’s already nominated Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announced on Dec. 27 that she will step down. Obama also will be choosing new secretaries of defense and commerce, U.S. trade representative and Central Intelligence Agency director.
The administration’s next battle will be over the government’s debt limit as soon as next month. After reaching an eleventh-hour budget deal that averted more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts earlier this week, Republicans in Congress have said they will use the debate over raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling to force concessions from Obama on spending and entitlement programs.
“This is a pressure point; we should use it,” Republican Representative Scott Rigell said on Bloomberg Television today. “I want Democrats to help us on this. We’re all in this together. We can’t continue to spend at this rate.”
Obama on Jan. 1 said he wouldn’t bargain over the debt ceiling and warned that the consequences of not raising the government’s borrowing authority “would be catastrophic.”
Geithner told Congress on Dec. 31 that the U.S. hit its statutory debt limit, necessitating emergency steps announced last week to keep funding government operations and avoid default. By relying on the “extraordinary measures,” Geithner has said Treasury can create about $200 billion of “headroom” to avoid a possible default.
The next Treasury secretary will have a major role in negotiating the debt limit deal with Congress, said Ann Mathias, director of Washington research for Guggenheim Securities LLC.
“Washington is turning from taxes to spending, which will dominate the view for the next quarter,” Mathias said in an e-mail. For the Treasury secretary, completing a deal “will take an enormous amount of his, or her, time and involve the same back and forth between tables that we saw during the tax deal.”
Republicans, as well as some of the president’s allies, say Obama will have little choice about the link between the budget and the debt-ceiling debate.
February will bring negotiations over cutting spending and funding the government, along with the debt limit, said Peter Orszag, Obama’s first Office of Management and Budget director.
“Whether the debt limit is technically included in the negotiations or not therefore doesn’t really matter,” he said in an e-mail. “A deal will have to be struck over other spending items anyway, and part of the ultimate deal will have to be an increase in the debt limit.”
Geithner told the president in June 2011 that he wanted to leave the administration and return to New York. With the European debt crisis threatening global growth and a fight over the debt ceiling looming, the president persuaded him to stay through the end of his first term.
Since then, Geithner has made no secret of his desire to leave his post as soon as possible.
In a Nov. 16 interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” Geithner said he will stay in his post until Obama’s inauguration, and he brushed aside suggestions that he might stay longer if a successor isn’t confirmed by then.
He said he’s “very confident that we’re going to get enough done in these next few weeks” and that Obama will “have a successor in place so I’ll be able to go off and do some other things.”