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'Tax Timmy's Friends': Nurses Follow Obama to France Demanding He Tax Geithner's Wall Street Cronies

The nurses' union takes the movement for a financial transaction tax to the G-20 in Cannes.

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Ron Suskind created a stir when he reported in his new book,  Confidence Men, that Obama initially leaned in favor of a transaction tax, but was talked out of it by his Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, a vocal FTT opponent. That leaves Obama to the right of Germany and France’s austerity-happy conservative heads of state on the FTT. “The time has passed when people looked to the White House for any kind of leadership role in changing the dynamic in this country,” says NNU legislative advocate Donna Smith.

Europe and the United States can influence each other’s course on a financial transaction tax. Passage of the tax in EU countries (as a set of coordinated national taxes) would address American opponents’ argument that a US tax would just drive such transactions to Europe. Conversely, as long as the US holds out on a tax, Baker expects that some minority of European traders will choose the US as a “tax haven.”

Though NNU and the AFL-CIO are together in pushing a transaction tax, they’ve taken different tacks towards the Obama administration. NNU executive director Rose Ann De Moro recently wrote on AlterNet that “a major stumbling block continues to be the opposition of the Obama administration, led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner…who has personally lobbied European finance ministers to oppose an FTT."

Smith says NNU wants “to make sure Mr. Geithner understands that whether or not he’s comfortable taxing his good friends on Wall Street, the nurses feel very strongly about doing what’s right for the American people.” While the AFL-CIO’s Slavkin says that “Geithner has been largely protective of big banks and Wall Street since he became the Treasury Secretary,” NNU’s language is more aggressive. Its Web site offers “Tax Timmy’s Friends” stickers, “dedicated to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, whose friends run Wall Street.”  

Asked whether the AFL-CIO backs that confrontational message, AFL-CIO spokesperson Amaya Tune responds, “I don’t think you can go by a bumper-sticker on what the message is…[AFL-CIO] President Trumka has been on the record [and] vocal talking to the [Obama] administration about this proposal and really pushing it with them.”

Congressman Peter DeFazio yesterday introduced a “Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act” that would impose an FTT, and Senator Tom Harkin plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate next week. Though the obstacles to getting a Wall Street tax through the current Congress are daunting, pro-Wall Street groups aren’t taking any chances. The Chamber of Commerce and six other major business organizations have written to Geithner emphasizing their “strong opposition” to taxing transactions, airing concern over momentum for an FTT within the G20, and praising “the Administration’s public opposition to such a tax.”  

As Baker notes, an FTT would be a “trivial tax” for non-wealthy Americans. But as the FTT debate heats up in the United States, expect an overdose of “ownership society” rhetoric insisting that anyone who owns a stock or has a pension should share the top 1 percent’s commitment to leaving the stock market alone. Indeed, Bloomberg’s report on the DeFazio-Harkin legislation noted that “U.S. exchange operators fell the most since August on the news that the lawmakers would propose the tax.” In a media environment where the storyline too often is what’s good for Fortune 500 stocks equals what’s good for “the economy,” it’s not just Congressional Republicans who take hostages – so does the stock market.

But the nurses say they won’t be backing down from the fight. “Our feeling as nurses is that we feel very responsible to those we take care of," says Higgins. “We don’t just care for people at the bedside.”