Text: Geithner Testimony to Senate Appropriations Committee – Treasury’s Priorities & Financial System Update
Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Collins, members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you for the first time as Treasury Secretary on the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 Budget request for the Department of the Treasury.
While we see some initial signs of economic improvement and the financial system is beginning to heal, our country faces very substantial economic and financial challenges.
President Obama and his Administration are working to meet these challenges by getting Americans back to work and getting our economy to grow again; by restoring fiscal discipline to ensure a sustained recovery, and by making the long-neglected investments in health care, energy and education needed to enhance America’s global competitiveness and produce more balanced, sustainable growth over the long-term.
Treasury’s Key Priorities
To achieve these goals, we are repairing and reforming our financial system so that it works for, not against, a recovery that serves all Americans.
To restore growth and meet our fiscal goals, we are redesigning and bolstering enforcement of our tax code so that it is both fairer and more efficient.
To advance our interests globally, we are working with other nations to promote economic recovery and financial repair, and to ensure more open markets for U.S. business.
(Source: U.S. Dept. of the Treasury)
Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby, members of the Senate Banking Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.
On October 3, 2008, during a time of tremendous financial upheaval and economic uncertainty, Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) with the specific goal of stabilizing the nation’s financial system and preventing catastrophic collapse. Soon after taking office, this Administration rebuilt the EESA programs from the ground up with a new foundation. We also unveiled a financial stability plan to restore the flow of credit to consumers and businesses, tackle the foreclosure crisis in order to help millions of Americans stay in their homes, and comprehensively reform the nation’s financial regulatory system so that a crisis like this one never happens again.
Today, just four months into President Obama’s term of office, there are important indications that our financial system is starting to heal. For example, spreads for investment grade corporate bonds have fallen about 210 basis points and spreads on high yield corporate bonds are down about 770 basis points since the end of November. Spreads on AAA municipal bonds have come down 150 basis points since October. Risk premiums in short-term, inter-bank markets have fallen 280 basis points over roughly the same period and the cost of credit protection for the largest U.S. banks has fallen by about 180 basis points just since early April. Treasury is continuing to look into additional metrics that gauge the markets more broadly, as well as additional economic metrics, to determine the effectiveness of the current strategy and whether additional or different steps are needed.
U.S. Senator Kit Bond shifted in his chair at a 2005 congressional hearing, poised with a question on national security. He turned to Treasury Secretary John Snow, who was seated at a witness table.
Was Snow sure, asked Bond, a Missouri Republican, that a Treasury Department computer on order for $8.9 million would help detect terrorist money laundering?
“Yes, absolutely,” Snow said.
A year later, in July 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department abandoned the project. The computer didn’t work. The department had spent $14.7 million — a 65 percent increase above the original budget — for nothing.
There was a final ignominy: Under the terms of the contract, Electronic Data Systems Corp., the vendor, collected a bonus of $638,126.
According to Reuters, not only is the U.S. Treasury Dept. holding off on release of bank stress tests due to earnings season, the government department may not release institution-specific data at all. One of the many factors leading to the current financial crisis was a lack of transparency in financial markets. If these institutions are publicly traded, and if they’ve taken tax dollar funded bailouts, the data needs to be available to anyone who wishes to see it.
The U.S. Treasury Department is planning to delay the release of any completed bank stress test results until after the first-quarter earnings season to avoid complicating stock market reaction, a source familiar with Treasury’s discussions said on Tuesday.
The Treasury is still talking about how results of the regulatory stress tests on the 19 largest U.S. banks will be released, and may disclose them as summary results that are not institution-specific, the source said.
The government is testing how the largest banks would fare under more adverse economic conditions than are expected in an attempt to assess the firms’ capital needs. The tests are due to be completed by the end of April, but Treasury has said they may be finished before then.
The source, speaking anonymously because the Treasury has not made a final decision on what to disclose, said officials do not want any test results released before the earnings season wraps up for most U.S. banks on April 24.
The PDF document below outlines the highlights of comprehensive financial services regulatory reform proposals announced by Secretary fo the Treasury Timothy Geithner on March 26.
From the New York Times:
The success or failure of the plan carries not only enormous stakes for the nation’s recovery but certain political risks for Mr. Geithner as well. At least two Republican senators have called for his resignation. And on Sunday, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, told Fox News that “if he keeps going down this road, I think that he won’t last long.” Initially, a new Public-Private Investment Program will provide financing for $500 billion in purchasing power to buy those troubled or toxic assets — which the government refers to more diplomatically as legacy assets — with the potential of expanding later to as much as $1 trillion, according to a fact sheet issued by the Treasury Department.
While Treasury, in company with private investors, will put up initial financing, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and the Federal Reserve will be tapped to offer further financing.
Under one component of the plan, Treasury will provide up to 80 percent of the initial capital, which would go alongside investment by private funds. The FDIC would then offer debt financing for up to six times the pooled amount.
A separate component will have the Federal Reserve widen the financing it now provides under its new Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF. That $200 billion program, will be bumped up to $1 trillion and will begin accepting older mortgage-related and other securities as loan collateral.
From the Wall Street Journal:
The coordinated effort of the Treasury, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will attempt to address the issue of “legacy” real-estate-related assets that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said is reducing banks’ willingness to take risks and to lend money to consumers.
“This will help banks clean up their balance sheets and make it easier for them to raise private capital,” Mr. Geithner said.
The plan calls for the federal government to work with private investors to try to restart the market for the troubled mortgage loans and securities, which in turn officials hope improves the financial condition of banks that have received billions in capital injections from the government already. The federal government will pair as much as $100 billion with private capital to generate $500 billion in purchasing power to buy the assets, and Mr. Geithner told reporters the plan could reach $1 trillion in size over time.
The Financial Stability Plan – Progress So Far: Over the past six weeks, the Treasury Department has implemented a series of initiatives as part of its Financial Stability Plan that – alongside the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – lay the foundations for economic recovery:
- Efforts to Improve Affordability for Responsible Homeowners: Treasury has implemented programs to allow families to save on their mortgage payments by refinancing, assist responsible homeowners in avoiding foreclosure through a loan modification plan, and, alongside the Federal Reserve, help bring mortgage interest rates down to near historic lows. This past month, the 30% increase in mortgage refinancing demonstrated that working families are benefiting from the savings due to these lower rates.
- Consumer and Business Lending Initiative to Unlock Frozen Credit Markets: Treasury and the Federal Reserve are expanding the TALF in conjunction with the Federal Reserve to jumpstart the secondary markets that support consumer and business lending. Last week, Treasury announced its plans to purchase up to $15 billion in securities backed by Small Business Administration loans.
- Capital Assistance Program: Treasury has also launched a new capital program, including a forward-looking capital assessment undertaken by bank supervisors to ensure that banks have the capital they need in the event of a worse-than-expected recession. If banks are confident that they will have sufficient capital to weather a severe economic storm, they are more likely to lend now – making it less likely that a more serious downturn will occur.
It’s too bad Paul Krugman isn’t the one watching our tax dollars, from his column today in the New York Times:
Over the weekend The Times and other newspapers reported leaked details about the Obama administration’s bank rescue plan, which is to be officially released this week. If the reports are correct, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, has persuaded President Obama to recycle Bush administration policy — specifically, the “cash for trash” plan proposed, then abandoned, six months ago by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.
After all, we’ve just been through the firestorm over the A.I.G. bonuses, during which administration officials claimed that they knew nothing, couldn’t do anything, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. Meanwhile, the administration has failed to quell the public’s doubts about what banks are doing with taxpayer money.
And now Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.
It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.
Follow the link above and go read the rest. Krugman explains the economics of the issue. Anyone else getting the feeling the Obama Administration – like the Bushies before them – are bending over backwards to not offend the people who brought our economy to its knees?
The U.S. Dept. of Treasury announced an auto supplier support program on Thursday. In looking around the web for a picture of employment in the U.S. auto parts industry I found this at the website for the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank.
This from the New York Times tonight:
Interviews with senior Federal Reserve and Treasury officials, as well as members of Congress, leave little doubt that the bonus program was a disaster hiding in plain sight. Mr. Geithner is not the only one who appears not to have understood the populist fury the bonuses would set off.
Career staff officials at the Treasury, Fed and Federal Reserve Bank of New York exchanged e-mail messages about the A.I.G. bonus program as early as late February, according to a person familiar with the matter. A.I.G. itself revealed the bonus plan in regulatory filings last September.