CHARLOTTE, North Carolina Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sought to calm fears that the Obama administration's bank reforms were hostile to the U.S. financial industry, saying on Wednesday the reforms were "tough where they need to be tough."
"I know that people are concerned that they will be too tough. I don't think there is much risk of this. I think there is no evidence of that," Geithner told the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce one day after President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to toughen his stance on Wall Street.
The Treasury, the Federal Reserve and other financial supervisors are feverishly adopting dozens of rules to reorder Wall Street after the 2007-09 housing crisis exposed gaps in regulation. The administration and its regulators have been repeatedly criticized by Republican lawmakers for over-reaching with the new rules.
In response to a question, Geithner said it "wasn't true" that the administration was hostile to the banking world, while also noting that some in the United States feel it has been "too generous" to bankers.
"They cannot both be right, and they are both wrong," Geithner said after touring a Siemens plant that manufactures steam turbines and generators.
The state of the financial system was a hot topic in Charlotte, a city that saw its two big banks nearly collapse in the financial crisis. Wachovia Corp sold itself to San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co under duress in 2008, and Bank of America Corp is still struggling to shed mortgage-related losses and meet new capital rules.
The unemployment rate in North Carolina is 9.9 percent, which is above the national average of 8.5 percent.
Geithner, asked if the United States was heading toward another recession, said the economy was getting stronger in comparison to where it was in 2009 when the country was "falling off the cliff." "We are still living with the tremendous damage caused by the crisis," he said.
Geithner, who had helped the previous Bush administration respond to the financial crisis when he was the head of the New York Federal Reserve, plans to leave Treasury's chief job at the end of Obama's first term.
In an interview later with Bloomberg, Geithner said he did not expect to be asked to serve as secretary if Obama won a second term as president.
Geithner reiterated that Europe's deteriorating debt crisis was taking a toll on the fragile U.S. economy. "This crisis is having a big impact on us," he said.
His comments come after the International Monetary Fund warned that the European Union's debt problems could tip the world economy into recession.
Geithner has already made several trips to Europe to urge leaders to take decisive action to resolve the crisis.
(Reporting By Rick Rothacker, Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Leslie Adler)