WASHINGTON — In a memoir released today, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner takes a shot at Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois for "delusional" fears when Kirk purportedly warned officials in China not to buy U.S. Treasury securities or other U.S. debt.
Geithner says Kirk, a Republican, warned the Chinese that U.S. spending "was driving us toward default" and the Federal Reserve Bank was "creating hyperinflation."
"I couldn't believe it," Geithner writes. "Not only were those fears delusional, but he was undermining American interests on foreign soil. I called him on his way out of China to explain that there was this noble tradition in politics that you don't criticize the United States while you're abroad — and you definitely shouldn't say we're going to default on our debts. But partisan politics no longer seemed to stop at the water's edge."
Kirk's office issued a brief statement today that neither confirmed nor denied Geithner's characterization of the Illinois lawmaker’s comments to the Chinese. It said:
"Since traveling to China in 2009, our nation's debt has grown from $11.9 trillion to $17.5 trillion. What is fact, and not delusional, is that our spending habit cripples our economic recovery and is undeniably unsustainable."
Geithner’s book is "Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises" (Crown Publishers). The passage on Kirk appears in a chapter in which Geithner discusses what he terms the Republican Party's "decades-long drift to the far right." The former Treasury chief said Kirk was "one of the few nominally moderate Republicans left in Congress."
He also writes: "I sometimes wondered where this newfound right-wing enthusiasm for fiscal discipline had been during the Bush years, when unfunded wars, tax cuts, and a new Medicare prescription drug benefit had helped turn the Clinton surpluses into deficits."
Crown, in a synopsis of the book, says the book is "the inside story of how a small group of policy makers — in a thick fog of uncertainty, with unimaginably high stakes — helped avoid a second depression but lost the American people doing it."
Kirk was elected to the Senate in 2010 after nearly a decade in the House of Representatives.
Geithner writes that he learned of Kirk's remarks during his first trip to Beijing as treasury secretary, saying an embassy official called him to tell him that Kirk "had just held an unusual meeting with Chinese officials."
Geithner was sworn in as Treasury secretary on Jan. 26, 2009.
Public records show that Kirk, while in the House, visited China and Hong Kong in the spring of 2009 on a trip paid for by the National Committee on United States-China Relations.
The committee, begun in 1966, says on its Web site that it has been at the forefront of the Chinese-American relationship by encouraging dialogue and face-to-face interaction.
Kirk's trip ran from May 25 to June 1, 2009, when his costs totaled $9,139 and an aide's costs totaled $8,209, records show.
The National Committee on United States-China Relations also says on its Web site that it sponsored a trip to China in 2006 with Kirk and two other lawmakers.
It describes Kirk then as being a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional U.S.-China Working Group.