Geithner says "no risk" U.S. will lose AAA rating

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 19, 2011 3:38pm EDT

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on Capitol Hill in Washington April 5, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on Capitol Hill in Washington April 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, going on the offensive one day after Standard & Poor's threatened to lower its top-tier rating on U.S. government debt, said on Tuesday there was "no risk" of a downgrade.

Prospects for a deficit-reduction deal were improving, Geithner said on Tuesday as he appeared in a morning blitz of television shows. He said in one appearance that he did not have to reassure foreign buyers of U.S. debt in the wake of S&P's warning.

Geithner said Democrats and Republicans now agree on the need to put in place "enforceable" targets to slash deficits by some $4 trillion over the next decade or so.

"If you listen carefully now, you see the leadership of the United States of America ... recognizing now this is the right thing to do for the economy," he told Fox Business Network.

Standard & Poor's on Monday threatened to downgrade its AAA rating on U.S. Treasury debt unless the Obama administration and Congress find a way to slash the staggering federal budget deficit within two years.

A downgrade would erode the status of the United States as the world's most powerful economy and diminish the dollar's role as the dominant global currency. It also would likely raise borrowing costs, potentially hurting economic recovery as investors demand higher returns for holding U.S. debt.

Geithner disputed S&P's finding that the U.S. credit outlook was negative, and said it was difficult for people outside Washington to cut through partisan political rhetoric.

"Actually, I think things are better than they've been if you want to think about the prospects for improving our long-term fiscal position," he said on CNBC.

"If you're looking very carefully at what's happening in Washington, you see people on both sides -- Democrats and Republicans -- agreeing with the president that we have to put in place some reforms now to bring down our long-term deficits," he added.

Prices for U.S. government debt were little changed after Geithner's remarks, but later rose modestly as worries about euro-zone debt bolstered a safety bid for Treasuries. The benchmark 10-year note rose 4/32 in price, while its yield of 3.36 percent, fell slightly for a second straight day.

LOCKING IN TARGETS

Geithner told Bloomberg Television there was no need to reassure foreign buyers of U.S. debt in the wake of S&P's revised outlook, noting investors still had confidence in U.S. debt and the growth prospects of the U.S. economy.

"You can see that in the price at which we borrow every day, but we have to earn that confidence," he said.

President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers have laid out competing visions for how to tackle the deficit, which is projected to hit $1.4 trillion this fiscal year.

Obama wants wealthy Americans to shoulder a greater share of the tax burden and has also proposed cuts in spending on domestic programs and the military. Republicans are pushing for deeper spending cuts and want to make permanent Bush-era tax cuts for families earning more than $250,000 a year.

Geithner said he believed it was possible for the Obama administration to secure a deal with Congress to "lock in" targets and mechanisms to cut deficits by $4 trillion over the next 10 to 12 years.

Entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare would have to be part of the discussions, he said.

Long-term deficit reduction also will require some "modest" tax hikes for wealthier Americans, Geithner said.

Obama, speaking at a student forum in Virginia, said he also believed that Republicans and Democrats can reach a deal to cut the deficits, but it won't be easy.

"There will be some fierce disagreements," Obama said.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Jan Paschal)