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A Short, Short List for Treasury Secretary

By Caroline Baum
January 07, 2013 10:18 AM EST

Wanted: Experienced individual to lead major Cabinet department. Candidate must have prior Washington experience and good crisis management skills. Goldman Sachs pedigree preferred, but overall familiarity with Wall Street required. Candidates with history of tax evasion need not apply. Must be ready to start immediately.

Now that President Barack Obama has nominated Senator John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and the Pentagon guessing game is over, all eyes turn to the U.S. Treasury. Who will replace Tim Geithner, Obama's point man in dealing with Congress on all things financial?

Jacob Lew, the White House chief of staff and former budget director, is on everyone's short list. In fact, he is the short list. Yes, the White House reportedly approached American Express CEO Ken Chenault, but that seems more like a business-friendly gesture on Obama's part than a serious job offer.

Whoever replaces Geithner will have to hit the ground running. Within the next three months, the debt ceiling, the delayed spending sequester and the continuing resolution to fund the government all must be addressed. And there is no reserve of bonhomie between Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.

Those who consider the current Treasury secretary indispensable should take a quick look at his curriculum vitae. Geithner has been praised for his handling of the financial crisis, first as president of the New York Fed and subsequently as Treasury secretary. Overlooked is that his tenure at the Fed, one of the banking system's two main regulators, coincided with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Most major bank holding companies fall under the Fed's aegis. Regulators were asleep at the wheel. What does that say about the fellow doing the driving?

(Caroline Baum is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

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