Amid increasing public skepticism about his ability to lead the president's economic recovery effort, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is going on something of a PR push. In an op-ed in Monday's Wall Street Journal Geithner laid out the administration's plans to get credit flowing by clearing bad assets from banks' books. He followed up with a CNBC interview and on Wednesday will deliver a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Geithner told CNBC's Erin Burnett that the just-announced plan for bad assets, the Public-Private Investment Program, is a big piece but "not the biggest piece" of the government's recession-fighting pie.
"We've already taken a bunch of actions to help get mortgage interest rates down, to help millions of Americans refinance their homes, to take advantage of lower interest rates," the Treasury Secretary said. "We launched a very powerful small business lending program, for obvious reasons. Last week we launched this new program to get securities markets going again. We saw almost $9 billion in new issuance, more than we've seen in the last four months together. That'll help bring interest rates down, too. So all these things are designed to help get credit flowing again at lower cost to businesses and families across the country."
Burnett pressed Geithner repeatedly to comment on the most unsavory slice of the pie: executive compensation. Geithner said popular fury over "outrageous" million-dollar bonuses for executives at bailed-out firms is "completely understandable," but he avoided commenting on various legislative efforts to limit pay.
Geithner said it was important for the government to avoid rewarding failure on Wall Street, but stressed that getting "credit flowing again" is the "core obligation." He said the government is looking into recovering bonuses from bailed-out companies.
"The president asked us to explore -- and we're working very carefully with Justice to examine all legal means to see whether we can recoup those payments," he said. "I believe said he's working with -- working to get that money back. And we're going to make sure that the taxpayer is compensated for any funds that aren't returned."