I’m not saying that because he’s done such a bang-up job, or because he’s got such a winning personality. I’ll leave those questions for a future article . It’s because the confirmation process is broken. As Slate’s Dave Weigel reported, “the time between nomination and confirmation votes has nearly doubled since the Reagan era, when the sclerosis really started. It took Reagan 114 days for nominees to get confirmed; it takes Obama closer to 200 days. By the White House’s own count, more than 200 nominees are in limbo.”
Many of those nominees are non-controversial. The Treasury Secretary won’t be. The economy is the central political issue right now, 2012 is an election year, and Republicans have sufficient votes in the Senate to mount a filibuster. Under those circumstances, it’s very difficult to imagine them permitting the confirmation of any Treasury Secretary.
That leaves the White House with two main options: Nominate someone Senate Republicans have previously voted for or nominate someone who can’t be polarized. A Republican, perhaps.
If Democrats want to take the first route, Jacob Lew, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, would be an obvious choice. He’s won Senate confirmation twice in the last three years: first to be deputy Secretary of State, and then to be director of the Office of Management and Budget — a position for which he received unanimous support in the Senate. Lew, in fact, has something of a reputation as a liberal who has won the respect of conservatives. “No one was more prepared and more in tune with the numbers than Jack Lew,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Politico. “He was always very polite and respectful in his tone and someone who I can tell is very committed to his principles.”
Another option, and one the White House might find particularly appealing in an election year, would be to tap a moderate Republican for the position. They’ve had mixed experiences attempting this strategy in the past: Keeping Robert Gates as Defense Secretary worked well for them, but nominating Sen. Judd Gregg to head the Commerce Department blew up in their face. What makes this idea more plausible is that the next Treasury Secretary is likely to preside over an extended period of deficit reduction, which might might make it an easier job for a Republican to take. What makes it less plausible is that he or she will also be in charge of the administration’s effort to let some of the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012, which is not a position many Republicans have endorsed.
But the real fear is that most of the potential candidates realize that whoever gets nominated to fill Geithner’s shoes is going to have a very tough political road ahead of them and will refuse the White House’s offer. After all, Peter Diamond won a Nobel prize in economics and he still couldn’t get the Senate to confirm him to a seat on Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. In this day and age, being nominated can mean a few days of publicity and excitement and then a long, expensive and humiliating road to eventual rejection. Will the type of people who we’d want to serve as Treasury Secretary — people who have good jobs, sterling reputations, and busy lives — really want to risk that?