Transcript: Diane Sawyer Interviews Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

SAWYER:
I want to ask about a couple of things. And I'll get back to the -- to the mortgage and the lending in a moment. But as you've seen, a lot of people are expressing terror. There were tens of thousands of people in the streets in Washington over the weekend. And however you may see them as politically motivated some of them, there were a lot of people there saying things like, "Just look at the reality if you're facing a $1.6 trillion deficit. If you're facing IOUs to other countries. Where suddenly they own America. Our children are imperiled." One woman said, "By the time my children grow up, they won't have a discretionary dime."

GEITHNER:
We got into this because we borrowed too much. We lived beyond our means. Both as a country, many businesses did it, many families did it. Obviously, the financial sector did that. And part of what's going to make this so hard to get out of this is we have to go back to a point where we're saving more. It's starting to happen.

Savings rates have gone up from about one to five percent, which is good. We're borrowing less from the rest of the world now. That's a healthy sign of change. And it's -- it'll make us strong in the future, if we, if we keep that up. But our first challenge is to make sure we get this economy growing. This -- this quarter, this month, we probably have for the first time in 18 months or two years, an economy that's really growing now for the first time. But it's very early still. And our first challenge is to make sure we get this economy back on the path to actual growing. So people are back into -- back to work. So businesses will take a chance again -- on America.

SAWYER:
So, do the people who say, "We just don't recognize our country right now. A country in which we seem to be owning insurance companies and auto companies. And the mortgages themselves. And we're in this kind of debt."

GEITHNER:
Those were --

SAWYER:
"With no prospect of getting out." What do you say to them about their essential fear? Our new poll shows enormous stress --

GEITHNER:
No, I think --

SAWYER:
-- about where the country's headed.

GEITHNER:
I think you're absolutely right. People are very uncertain, and they're very concerned about the future. But those things you described, the actions we did take, you'd never ever want a government to have to do. But in a crisis, in a fire that that was that powerful, the government had to do some deeply offensive things to help contain the damage. And we will get out of that as quickly as we can.

You're already seeing banks starting to repay. The government's earning a reasonably good return on its -- the investments it made in some financial institutions. We're not going to keep a penny in the financial system or in the U.S. economy longer than we think is absolutely necessary.

SAWYER:
By next year, will we be out of the auto business?

GEITHNER:
I -- I think it's going to take longer than that. Just to be honest and realistic.

SAWYER:
Two years? Three? Four?

GEITHNER:
We're going to get out as soon as we can. And again, in the -- if you look at the financial system, where what the government had to do was very dramatic. You're already seeing the government unwind, walk back, reverse a lot of the exceptional things that we had to do. And that's what have to do in a crisis.

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