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At Geithner Hearing, a Comedy of Tax Errors

Treasury nominee and mistake-maker Tim Geithner.
Treasury nominee and mistake-maker Tim Geithner. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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A future Treasury secretary using TurboTax? The mistakes were multiplying.

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) didn't seem to think it was a mistake at all but rather "negligence towards the law" -- and he was still grumbling about it loudly when Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) took his turn scolding Geithner. The Kansan suggested there should be "a tax holiday for all Americans who have made a mistake and do not want to engage the IRS in the briar patch."

Bunning still wasn't satisfied and requested another five minutes to hector Geithner. He displayed a 3-by-4-foot poster enlarging the IMF form on which Geithner had promised to pay the tax that he didn't pay. "I had many opportunities to catch that initial mistake," Geithner confessed anew. "I signed it in the mistaken belief that I was complying."

Bunning kept asking, and Geithner kept apologizing. "The critical mistake I made was at the beginning that first year," the mistake-maker said. "And because I didn't catch it, after that I kept making it."

Minutes later, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) picked up the mistake minuet. His questions were rapid-fire -- and so were Geithner's admissions of error: "Every payroll statement I got gave me an opportunity to realize this mistake. . . . It was very clear that this was an avoidable mistake. . . . I should have been much more careful. . . . Of course I was mistaken. . . . I did not catch my mistake. . . . I was left with the mistaken belief that I fully complied. . . . I signed it in the mistaken belief that I was complying."

Kyl told Geithner that his answer -- that he didn't realize he had underpaid taxes in 2001 and 2002 until nominated for the Cabinet -- "strains credulity."

"This is my mistake, and it's my responsibility," Geithner repeated.

Kyl cut off the confessions of error. "Would you answer my question, rather than dancing around it please?" the senator said, suggesting Geithner didn't pay because the statute of limitations had expired.

"I made a series of mistakes," the nominee said once more. "And, again, I regret those mistakes, but they were not intentional. I've corrected them. But they're my responsibility."

By the time the hearing ended, the word "mistake" had been used 41 times and "error" another 11 times. And that was no accident.

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