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Stephen Foley: Geithner’s hopes are constrained by Congress


US Outlook You might think that President Barack Obama is the most powerful man in the world, but I don't believe it. The checks and balances on executive power in this country proscribe what the man in the White House can do, especially outside of foreign policy, which is why the idea of calling the President "the country's chief executive" – as supporters of Mitt Romney and other businessmen-leaders are wont to do – is quite barmy. No chief executive of a Fortune 500 country would stand for having to put every proposal to a fractious and dysfunctional Congress.

When George Osborne stands up in the House of Commons on Wednesday to deliver his Budget, he will do so secure in the knowledge that it will sail through a captive Parliament that treats the whole package as a vote of confidence in the Government. Will you spare a thought that day, please, for Tim Geithner, President Obama's Treasury Secretary?

Mr Geithner spoke at the Economic Club of New York here this week, and was in full-on electioneering mode, talking up the recovery and explaining how the stimulus measures put in place by the administration had averted a second Great Depression.

That's all true, although his claim that the financial and economic recovery plans put in place in 2009 "worked better than any of us had hoped" is not. Truth is, the recovery from recession has been held back repeatedly by Congress' modesty when it comes to stimulus measures, and the hope for one last fiscal boost before austerity kicks in now rests with the lame-duck session after the elections in November and before the new Congress is sworn in next January. Those are the few short weeks where politicians are freed from the tyranny of the re-election cycle to do the right thing for the country as a whole.

Mr Geithner has scaled back his hopes to a thin gruel of infrastructure investment, small business aid and money to prevent layoffs of teachers and emergency service workers.

Where Mr Osborne commands his parliamentarians, Mr Geithner is Oliver Twist, approaching Congress with his begging bowl. Please, sirs, can the economy have some more?