By Julie Hirschfeld DavisWASHINGTON -- Revelations about Timothy Geithner's tax problems derailed Senate Democrats' plans Wednesday to speed him to confirmation as Treasury secretary so he could be sworn in on Inauguration Day. President-elect Barack Obama had hoped for Geithner to be approved quickly so he could join other officials in urgent efforts to revive the failing national economy beginning immediately after Obama's own inauguration next Tuesday. Now, Geithner's confirmation hearing isn't scheduled until next Wednesday, with Senate debate and a vote some time after that. A top Republican objected to a hearing this Friday for Geithner at the Senate Finance Committee after the panel disclosed he failed to pay $34,000 in taxes several years ago. Still, Democrats and Republicans on the panel voiced strong support for Geithner, who was phoning senators individually to persuade them that his tax problems were the result of innocent mistakes, not deliberate attempts to avoid paying the Internal Revenue Service. Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who chairs the committee, said Geithner's confirmation was "a given." He said he was working to clear away the objection to a quicker hearing for Geithner, which could allow him to be confirmed on Inauguration Day. Sen. Jon S. Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican, is blocking the hearing by insisting on rules that require a full week's notice for scheduling such a session, according to an aide close to the confirmation process. His objection was disclosed on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to announce it.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the senior Finance Republican, said he was not inclined to oppose a quicker hearing. He planned to meet individually with other GOP members of the panel to see whether they could agree on the Friday session. "I'm going to see what collective judgment we have," Grassley said. Several other committee Republicans appeared to be leaning toward backing Geithner. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah called the tax problems "a mistake that a human being can make." "I'm confident in the man's ability. I think he's a very fine man. I'm not one that holds mistakes against people," Hatch said. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he'd probably vote to confirm Geithner. "I think he's a good man. I had a long visit with him," Roberts said. "I think he really knows his stuff." Geithner has paid back the taxes he owed. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who said he spoke with Geithner for about a half-hour Wednesday morning, said he didn't foresee trouble for the nominee. "I don't think I see enough in there to cause a problem," Ensign said. "It's very, very easy to make honest mistakes."