Transcript: Timothy Geithner Interview with George Stephanopoulos

GEITHNER: No, I don't believe that. But I think most of what you're seeing now, George, in the -- in the American economy, is, again, the economy is really getting stronger. I mean there's -- the economy is growing again. Private investment is expanding. People are starting to spend more. Exports are growing. And as that's happened, you're seeing, you know, the normal signs of recovery happen across the American economy. And that's a good sign. It's a healthy sign. But, again, we're still living with the financial system that brought us this crisis. And so we have huge obligation, I believe, huge responsibility now to make sure we're putting in place tough reforms now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But why isn't it a good idea to do something about the size of these banks?

GEITHNER: Well, that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Aren't they still too big to fail?

GEITHNER: We -- we agree. Our -- our view is absolutely. And our view is that we need to make sure that you're limiting how big they can get and how risky that they can get. But if, in the future, if they mess up and they take themselves to the edge of the cliff again, then we want to make sure we can put them out of existence, dismember them, break them up safely without the American taxpayer having to bail them out again. That's very important. That's a critical part of this bill.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a critical part, but is it true that you're no longer pushing as hard as you were for a fund paid for by the banks?

GEITHNER: Oh, a...

STEPHANOPOULOS: To fund that resolution authority?

GEITHNER: A very important issue, again, what everybody agrees with, I believe, is that you should never have the taxpayers in the position again where they have to be exposed to bailing out these institutions. So our view is, again, you want to have a system in which we can fail them safely. We can put them in a form -- through a form of bankruptcy and not have the taxpayer exposed to any risk of loss. So if the government is ever exposed again to taking any risk in these things, cleaning up these messes, we want to make sure that the banks are the ones paying for those costs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're confident that if these reforms are put in place and 18 months down the road we face another situation like Lehman Brothers situation, whether it's now Citigroup or JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, whichever bank, you take your pick -- Goldman Sachs, you're confident that the government will not step in and save them?

GEITHNER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And that's very important for people to understand, because you can't run a system in which private investors or their executives can take risk on the expectation the government is going to come in and protect them. That's a recipe for disaster.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's what's been happening, isn't it?

GEITHNER: That's what happened before and we're not going to allow that again. And, again, the most important things in this bill are, besides the transparency and disclosure –provides-- besides providing protection for consumers against the kind of predation you saw in subprime mortgages. Is to make sure that we're limiting risk-taking by these institutions, limiting how big and how risky they can get. But if they mess up in the future, we're going to put them out of existence without that causing loss to the taxpayer or catastrophic damage to the economy as a whole.

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