Geithner: A defining moment for reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the country is at a defining moment for financial reform and urged lawmakers to approve changes to toughen bank rules to help avoid another economic crisis.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner speaks at the "Women in Finance" Symposium at the Treasury Department in Washington March 29, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed

In an opinion-editorial piece to be published in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Geithner said the United States was “close to turning the page” on the economic crisis and was repairing the financial system at a much lower cost than had been anticipated.

“The true cost of this crisis, however, will always be measured by the millions of lost jobs, the trillions in lost savings and the thousands of failed businesses,” he wrote. “No future generation should have to pay such a price.”

Geithner welcomed signs of support from both Republicans and Democrats for financial reform legislation.

“This is a defining moment for financial reform,” he wrote. “We have to get it right. We cannot build a system that relies solely on the wisdom and judgment of future regulators.”

“The best strategy for stability is to force the financial system to operate with clear rules that set unambiguous limits on leverage and risk.”

With Congress back from its Easter vacation, the Obama administration is pushing lawmakers to approve the tougher rules by September, two years after the failure of investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered events that almost destroyed the U.S. financial system.

The proposals aim to stamp out the practices that led to the collapse, but they face opposition from Republicans concerned about excessive regulation.

The House of Representatives approved a sweeping financial reform bill in December. The Senate is on track to begin formal debate this month on legislation that was passed by the Senate Banking Committee without Republican support.

Democrats currently control both congressional chambers.

Proposed Senate legislation would toughen oversight of big banks, create a $50 billion fund to help cover the costs of winding down big firms that become insolvent and set up an agency to protect consumers from the kind of risky financial products that triggered the 2008 crisis.

Geithner said the Senate bill closes loopholes in current law and would help ensure transparency to reduce fraud, manipulation and risk.

He said with the Senate bill, “the United States would have a strong hand in negotiating a global agreement on new capital requirements by the end of the year.”

“Such an agreement would establish a level playing field by requiring institutions to hold capital minimums and compliance would be open to scrutiny by regulators and the markets.”

“The Senate bill is strong,” he wrote. “As the bill moves to the floor, we will fight any attempt to weaken it. The American people have suffered through too much to enact reform that does too little.”

Reporting by Deborah Charles, editing by Vicki Allen