Americans should not lose sight of the benefits of the pending health care reform bill by focusing on the back room deals made by lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill in exchange for favors for their states, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told ABC News.
"I would say that you have to look at the outcome and what it does for the country as a whole," Geithner told George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Earlier this week, the Senate version of the bill was assured passage after the final Democratic holdout, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, announced he would support the measure once his home state was granted extra Medicaid funds, prompting criticism that – in the words of Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – the bill was a "special deal-riddled package."
A final Senate vote on the legislation is expected Christmas Eve.
Asked by Stephanopoulos if this process was "the right way to do business," Geithner replied, "I do…The legislative process works in mysterious ways in our country, but you have to focus on what the outcomes are and this is a good, strong package of reforms, better than I think many people would have thought was possible a month ago, three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago."
The Treasury chief expressed confidence that lawmakers on Capitol Hill will successfully be able to reconcile the separate House and Senate measures.
"We're in a great position today, and these are strong bills," Geithner said. "There are some differences to be worked out, but there's a strong commitment on both sides to work out those differences."
Geithner was far less confident about Wall Street, noting that there are still some banks that do not understand the outrage across the country about the financial system's role in the current recession.
"I don't think they get it. I think some banks do. I don't think all banks get it yet," Geithner said.
"They did a huge amount of damage to the country, lost a huge amount of trust and confidence," he noted. "They need to work very hard to restore that.
"They need to make sure they're doing everything they can to help people who can afford to stay in their homes stay in their homes, help make sure they are lending in communities that need access to credit, they're working very hard to make sure that viable businesses that face some increased demand for orders now for their products now can get the credit they need.
"They need to show some restraint and care in how they pay their people, and they need to be supportive of the kind of reforms we need to create a more stable system in the future."
Thus far, the push for financial regulatory reform has taken a back seat in Congress to health care reform – in part because the banks' lobbyists have so vigorously opposed it – but Geithner emphasized that reforms are coming, like it or not.
"We're not going to run a strategy to protect the country from future financial crises that rests on the hope that banks in the future behave more wisely and more nobly," he said. "We're going to run a strategy that requires reforms that are going to, going to restrain risk-taking, provide better protections for consumers."