WHEN: WEDNESDAY, JULY 18TH AT 8:30AM ET
WHERE: CNBC’S “SQUAWK BOX”
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner live from the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conferencein New York City on Wednesday, July 18th at 8:30AM ET.
Following is a link to the video of the interview on CNBC.com: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000103666&play=1
Mandatory credit: CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference.
LARRY KUDLOW: Secretary Geithner, as always, welcome. We appreciate your time and your efforts. Let me begin with a subject that everybody's talking about, and that is the faltering economy. Of course Ben Bernanke was especially bleak yesterday. Some people even talking about a new recession threat. The jobs have come slow, the retail sales have come slow. I want to ask you, in your judgment, what has gone wrong, why are we facing this?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Larry, you're right. The economy is definitely slower, slower than it was last year. Why is it slower? Slower mostly because of the trauma from Europe, the aftereffects of the rising oil prices early this year, and because government spending and all other government is actually falling now quite significantly. And those three things are a significant drag on the recovery.
I think if you listen to most business economists or people in the markets most people still think the economy is growing, still gradually getting stronger, likely to strengthen modestly over the course of the next six months, next 18 months.
But we have these two big risks still. I think we talked about them the last year. One is the trauma, the crisis in Europe. And the second is this deep sense of political dysfunction, part of which is the looming effects of the tax increase and spending cuts.
And those two things are the dominant risk to the extension here in the United States. European risk is a more significant, more severe risk, in part because it's beyond our control. The fiscal challenges at the end of the year are completely within our control and are completely manageable challenges to diffuse and resolve. But those are the main risks.
LARRY KUDLOW: Can I ask you some challenges, look, some criticisms. You hear this all the time. First of all, that the government spending program, the stimulus program has not worked short term. Even the short-term tax credits have not worked. People are worried that the whole center of gravity of the economy, record food stamps, for example, Social Security disability payments, for example, actually running ahead of employment. For the first time in our history, 50 percent of American households are getting some form of federal assistance. People are saying that the Obama administration's plan has not worked and that's why we have these fits and starts. The economy runs up for a few months and peters out. And we're going through exactly the same issue now.
How do you react to that?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: No, sir, I don't think there's any basis or merit to that view. Just remember --
LARRY KUDLOW: To which the social -- the statistics here?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: All that -- let me explain. When the economy ended in 2008, falling off the cliff, shrinking at annual rate of 9 percent, within six months, because of the force of what Congress authorized, we did to the financial system, the Fed. did, we were growing again as a country. Remarkably quick. Successful effort to pull the economy back from the edge of the abyss.
Now, growth has been slower than anyone would like. Why has it been slower? It's been slower because we were digging out of a huge challenging mix of imbalances. People have been increasing savings, reducing debt. We've been taking leverage out of the financial system, working through a huge imbalance in housing. That process of de-leveraging was essential, unavoidable. And we are very far along through that process.
But by definition, that is the paradox in this, that makes growth slower than you would otherwise like. Slower than in a typical recovery. That's reality. We had Europe, oil, Japan, some pretty bad shocks, and we had the trauma around the debt limit and the ongoing fiscal drag.
But there are actions we took, the President took, Congress authorized on the fiscal side were absolutely essential and they were enormously powerful. As they started to fade, growth started to slow.
LARRY KUDLOW: Which is what the criticism is, that these temporary efforts don't work. I interviewed Alan Greenspan --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: But --
LARRY KUDLOW: Hang on a second. Let me give you what Alan Greenspan said. He's smarter than I am. I don't know if he's smarter than you are.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Definitely smarter than I am.
LARRY KUDLOW: Perhaps so. Greenspan's concern, again, you've heard this, the large-scale, relentless deficits have created an attitude of uncertainty that future tax rates will have to go up; that the debt-to-GDP ratio is now approaching 100 percent, things that critics Carmen Reinhart and so forth have talked about; and that therefore, Secretary, we're not getting the kind of long-term investment from business. Particularly there's almost a capital strike and that's the source of the lack of steady hiring. That's the challenge.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Maybe we have more in common than you fear. Let me just explain what we're for and what we think the economy needs right now.
What the economy needs right now is a very substantial, well-designed program of support for economic growth, better incentives for private investment, stronger public investment over time and infrastructure, in particular, a sustained, well-designed program of reforms to improve training and education, significant targeted support for basic scientific research, things that are important for long-term competitiveness. But those things need to be tied to and done within the context and the framework of a set of well-designed, long-term reforms to restore fiscal sustainability.
You need both those two things. If all you do is act to try to bring down the deficit quickly, without designing the sets of reforms you need to improve competitiveness and long-term growth potential, you will not solve the country's problems. And you will find it very difficult to legislate things that are good for growth in the short term without a framework, a balanced framework, of long-term reforms to restore fiscal sustainability.
So our judgment is, and this is the main thing that stands in the way of stronger recovery now, is Congress should act on both those two things. A strong pro growth, pro competitiveness agenda, tied to a balanced mix of long-term fiscal reforms, tax reforms to raise revenue, modest amount of revenue, tied to broad-based, significant reforms to the broader safe net, for retirees and for the disabled and, of course, for low-income Americans.
LARRY KUDLOW: Well, you know I completely agree with some of your long-term agenda items, at least in general terms, completely agree, which is why I want to talk about the short-term problem that we have, and that is the fiscal clip. We heard it again from Mr. Bernanke yesterday. My take was he just pointed the finger at Congress and said this is your problem, otherwise we're going to have a recession, don't expect me to get out of it.
I want to ask you. You've got the expiration of the tax cuts, you've got a substantial automatic sequester spending cut. You've got the end of the payroll tax cut, a huge shock to the system. Almost all forecasters, whether it's on Wall Street or the Congressional budget office, say if we don't stop this, we're going to go back into recession for sure.
What are you going to do about it and what's going on behind the scenes? I need to know the back story here, Mr. Geithner. That's what Wall Street is waiting for.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Again, let me start with what the --
LARRY KUDLOW: The back story, that's the one we want.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: You're right about the uncertainty. I agree. I think it's one of the significant risks out there. Again, it's a broader concern about whether Washington tends to do things that will help the country's economic problems.
What Congress should do is extend the tax cuts that currently exist for 98 percent of Americans and 98, 97 percent of small businesses. Take the debt limit risk of threat of default off the table definitively; extend the business extenders that are important, R&E tax credits, things like that, so that there's more certainty around the basic tax treatment of critical things like that. Good for business incentives.
They should pass the proposal we proposed to make refinancing of mortgages more widely available, to extend 100 percent expensing of business investment like we proposed. To give a place -- and I know you don't like the short-term stuff always, but the short-term things can matter in a context like this. Give businesses an incentive to improve hiring, increase payroll.
Give states some ability to get teachers back to work, first responders back to work. That mix of things would be very good for confidence and for the near-term imperative of getting growth stronger. But of course you want those to be done with a framework that puts in place a mix of long-term tax reforms, entitlement reforms to restore fiscal sustainability. That's what we're for.
You ask what is happening right now. Again, if you listen close, Washington is a crazy place, hard to read, and mostly evokes despair at the moment in its basic -- I won't go on.
LARRY KUDLOW: Is this the most chaotic -- I mean, I worked during the Reagan years, things were pretty rough then. Stuff got done. You've been around a long time. You've been in office a long time now. Is this the most chaotic political moment that we've seen?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I don't know if it's chaotic. But it's stuck and it needs to get unstuck. Again, the most powerful instruments of economic policy that the country needs right now are in the hands of the Congress. There are things the Executive Branch of the country does not control and the Fed. cannot control. Those need to be put to work.
Now, you ask what is happening right now. Again, if you listen carefully, there is a lot of very valuable foundation laying underway among law makers in both parties in trying to think through how to design that long-term framework of tax reforms to raise revenue and broader spending savings spread over time.
LARRY KUDLOW: Is it tax reform that you mean lower the rates, broaden the base, take the deductions away? Is that -- when you say tax reform that raises revenue, lower the rates, broaden the base?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: That's right.
LARRY KUDLOW: And you want a net revenue increase, not necessarily a net tax rate increase?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Yeah, you need to have reforms that produce high levels of revenue. I will give you an example. If you extend the tax cuts for the top 2 percent, it costs a trillion dollars over ten years. You can't ask us to go out and borrow that, not responsible. So if you want to advocate the extension of those, you have to figure out where are you going to find 8 trillion dollars in savings. Are you going to find it in defense, are you going to find it from Medicare beneficiaries? What would those do to the economy if you did that. Not to mention what it would do to our national security interests as a whole.
So the basic fiscal realities, they're going to force compromise ultimately, is a recognition that to dig out of this fiscal hole and to lock in some sensible launch in reforms, better certainty, better incentives for economic growth, you're going to have to do this with a balanced mix of reforms.
LARRY KUDLOW: Just a couple --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: By the way, you've been intrepid and courageous in reminding people that getting rid of tax expenditures is good economic policy.
LARRY KUDLOW: Right. I have for the better part of 30 years. Those are the original Reagan ideas back in 1986, actually '81 and '86. But, Secretary, let me ask you, again, some challenges. You know where these criticisms come from. You raise the top tax rate, the Joint Tax Committee said your proposal would raise it on 3 and a half percent of the so-called small business filers. They are 53 percent -- that's the Joint Tax Committee -- 53 percent of the small business income, the job creators. Ernst & Young has just come out. They say if you follow through on that, we're going to lose 710,000 jobs, you're going to shrink wages and investment is going to fall.
So the bigger question is: With the economy perhaps poised on the front end of another recession, why would you want to raise taxes at all on anybody at this moment?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Nobody wants ever to raise taxes. But when you govern, you have to figure out how to make sure you're putting in place reforms that balance all the conflicting challenges we face. The near-term stunt of that growth and the long-term challenges of that fiscal sustainability.
Now remember, to extend those tax cuts cost a trillion over 10 years. And despite what you said and the studies you quoted, they affect 2 to 3 percent of small businesses and .02 percent of small business income.
LARRY KUDLOW: If we go in a recession, your revenue loss is going to be even greater?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Think of it this way. If you don't want to do those tax changes, where are you going to find the trillion dollars in savings? And what would that do to economic growth? You think it would be better for economic growth for that to come out of national security, out of defense or out of education? Or out of Medicare benefits? Would that be better for economic growth? And the growth impact of those changes is very modest. Significantly smaller than the fiscal reforms put in place very successful in 1993.
LARRY KUDLOW: You know that if Paul Ryan were sitting in this chair, he would say to you, respectfully as I am, Secretary Geithner, I'm asking for a slower rate of increase on these spending areas across the board, including entitlement. You once said to Paul Ryan, it's fascinating, I thought it was a great moment for both of you, you said: We, meaning the administration, we don't have an entitlement reform, but we don't like yours.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Let me say, I said we don't have a plan for the next century. Okay? We don't have a plan to solve the problem for the next century. But we have an excellent plan for the next ten years, the next 25 years. We definitely do not believe that that alternative plan works.
Now, what you just said is not quite true, though, Larry. Remember, 25 million Americans become eligible for Medicare and Medicaid in the next 15 to 20 years. So you're going to say -- you have a huge increase in the eligible population for those widely popular benefits. And you have, although it's more moderate than it's been, significant growth in healthcare costs generally per capital. So when people say they're just cutting the rate, that's not true. To put in place that fiscal reform package would cut the actual level of benefits in real terms very significantly.
So if you don't want to do that, and you don't want to take it out of defense, what are you going to do? That's the basic fiscal reality that will force Washington to confront these kind of things. You have to look at all these proposals against the alternative. And for people who advocate would you just push this off again? Ask them what's their answer to the damage that that would do to the credibility of the American political system at a time when we have unsustainable deficits.
Europe is burning only because of lack of credibility on the political side. What would it do to confidence? What would it do to credibility to adopt the classic Washington stance of just saying: Let's put it off. And what's it going to do for our capacity to legislate things that would be good for infrastructure, task reform, that would help private investment incentives, much less the other reforms and competitiveness that we need to make sure we're going over time.
What we're trying to do is to get Washington to confront those challenges and to move on them, not to continually defer them or avoid them.
LARRY KUDLOW: I've got limited time and a lot more to ask you. We appreciate it very much. Can I just get some lightning answers?
Number one, regarding your programs, do you still want to raise the tax on carried interest for the private investment partnerships?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Again, let me just make sure, we don't want to do anything. Why would -- have you met any elected -- I'm not a politician, of course, but have you met any elected politician that wants to propose a tax? They don't exist. You only do it when you're trying to balance a broader set of constraints. When you govern, you have to do that.
So if you look at any tax reform proposal out there that has any patina of bipartisan support, they believe you have to rethink how we treat investment income and carrying interest. There's lots of different ways to do it. Obviously, carrying interest doesn't raise that much revenue. But you need to figure out, again, if you're not going to do that, whose taxes are you going to raise?
LARRY KUDLOW: So the answer is yes?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Yes. Thank you.
LARRY KUDLOW: Again, just lightning round.
The somewhat vague Buffett rule of tax that would somehow -- I'm not sure I understand the details, I'm not sure any living person does, but --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: It's a very simple thing --
LARRY KUDLOW: 30 percent on a million bucks or more, is that still in your package? Is that still in your --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Our view is, and again, I think any bipartisan approach has this central principle: We want to lower rates, broaden base, improve incentives for business investment. To do that you have to raise effective tax rates on some Americans, and we think we should on the Americans that can more easily bear the burden of that.
So yes, any effective tax reform proposal is going to have to have some device -- and usually a very simple one, not a complicated one -- to make sure there is a higher effective tax rate through base broadening.
LARRY KUDLOW: So that's a yes.
Okay. Last one on this. No, actually, two more on this and then I want to move on.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington State came out with this aggressive speech to the Brookings Institute: If we can't raise the tax rates on the upper brackets, we're going to let the whole thing expire and go on to 2013. Which I think most people on both sides of the aisle would say will lead to recession.
Did you see that comment? Did you know that that's the senator's position? What are you going to do with that? That doesn't sound like something that's negotiating.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Our position, again, is to put in place, to replace the sequester and the other pieces of this mess, a framework to negotiate tax reform to raise revenue alongside some comprehensive entitlement reforms to make more sustainable our commitments and the safe net.
That's our basic strategy, and as part of that we want to create some room for some modest, well-designed improvements in things that matter for growth, short-term and long-term; like infrastructure, like business tax reform, like education reforms with resources --
LARRY KUDLOW: But you'd rather not see the tax cut --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Of course not.
LARRY KUDLOW: -- and you would rather not see it?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Of course not. Again, let me say, there are people in the Republican party who say the only way they can be part of an agreement that raises revenue is if you let the tax cuts expire because they can vote for a tax cut. Now, that is not a responsible way to approach tax reform or fiscal policy. So we think we should avoid that.
LARRY KUDLOW: I've heard that view.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: You've heard that view.
LARRY KUDLOW: I have heard that view.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I mean, seriously.
LARRY KUDLOW: When was the last time you met with Speaker Boehner to talk about possible compromises?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I think the last time I spoke to him was several weeks ago when I went to talk to him about Europe. But I do try to talk to everybody that's going to be relevant to these decisions at the end of the year.
As I said, if you listen carefully, there's a lot of foundation-laying underway, in the Senate in particular, bipartisan basis, to explore what is going to work.
LARRY KUDLOW: All right. Let me move on.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: And this is not a complicated challenge. Relative to what we did in '08, '09, relative to what we've done in the past as a country, this is not a complicated challenge for the United States.
I know people are worried about this, but the scale of our fiscal challenges are much more modest than any other country faces -- major economy faces, and they are within our capacity to embrace and act on without causing significant damage.
LARRY KUDLOW: We can do this. What you're saying is we can do this and we've done stuff like this in the past.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Yes.
LARRY KUDLOW: And I admire that completely.
Let me just ask you, this recent LIBOR -- I'm reluctant to call it a scandal. But I'm going to call it a LIBOR flap. So the Wall Street Journal editorial and lots of other people are saying: Tim Geithner knew about this, wrote a memo in 2008. If it was such a great problem or such a great scandal, why did Mr. Geithner and other regulators do so little? From the standpoint, why didn't you make a bigger stink?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Let me explain what this is and what we did.
We acted very early in response to concerns that the processes that set this rate was impaired and flawed and vulnerable to misrepresentation. We were worried about it; we were concerned about it.
I took the issue to brief the entire U.S. Regulatory Committee on this at a very early stage, early May. My staff then briefed the SEC, CFTC. We brought it to the attention of the British and took the exceptional step in putting in writing to them a detailed set of recommendations that revealed the extent of the concerns in that context. And the U.S., to its credit, set in motion at that stage a very, very powerful enforcement response. The first results of which you've now seen.
Again, the test of any --
LARRY KUDLOW: Being the Barclays changes.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: The CFTC justice, FSA action is kind of -- very powerful enforcement action. Very important to do. Very consequential deterrents to its behavior, and it's the first step. There's more to come.
Now they have not fixed the problems at the center of this ring. They took some modest reforms in response to our suggestion in '08, but they didn't go far enough, and we have now taken the initiative to set up a broader effort involving all the countries that matter around the world, that have a big stake in this, to make sure we push and actually what happens now is reforms that actually fix the underlying problem.
The British are central to that. But we're not going to leave it completely to the British, because obviously the world has a stake in fixing this.
So we did the right and the necessary thing, and we did it early. We were forceful from the beginning, and you've seen now a very forceful enforcement response, more to come on that, and you're going to see what I think ultimately will be a very effective reform effort led by a more global effort than happened the first time.
LARRY KUDLOW: When you say more enforcement to come, you're talking about American banks, that's your particular jurisdiction -- American banks operating in the London LIBOR market?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well, what the enforcement authorities have said is that this is the first of a series of actions they intend to take. Didn't mean to imply more than that.
But I would say that, again, critical to restoring trust and confidence in our financial system -- very damaged. Not just by this, of course, but by many other things -- is that we demonstrate to the world we're going to have the best enforcement response anywhere to make sure that investors and consumers have the protections they need. And that requires not just reforms that we're fighting for, but also that there are resources available to these agencies so they can carry out their job.
If you let these -- leave these agencies underfunded, without stronger authority, then you leave investors more vulnerable and you leave confidence in our financials more vulnerable. We're not prepared to take that risk.
LARRY KUDLOW: There is some talk about the Justice Department enforcing criminal actions. What is your thinking on that?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I can't speak to that and I would never comment on enforcement case. But, again, I want you to know that the U.S. acted early and very forcefully on this, and you've seen the second act in that just recently. More to come. We're going to make sure there is a strong credibility reform effort to follow.
LARRY KUDLOW: Just to clarify this point. The U.S. acted early and forcefully. Okay. But your critics are saying right now: Yeah, you put it out in '08, you made phonecalls. You're always talking to banks. You put memos out presumably to the rest of the Fed. But this is 2012. What happened, why so long?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Very good point. Again, we brought it to the attention of the entire U.S. Regulatory Committee, and they initiated, in that time frame, what you've seen --
LARRY KUDLOW: Well, you're not bashful. If you have a mind to say something, you're going to say something.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Exactly.
LARRY KUDLOW: You didn't really speak out publicly on this.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: But we did, again, what we felt was the most effective -- and I'm confident we did -- the most effective and most responsible responses. Again, we brought it to the British attention, pushed them to move on it. They gave us every intention they would be on it. They shared our concerns. And we brought it to the attention of the U.S. enforcement community. And as you saw, they acted on that.
Now there was some time between that. But these cases, as you know, take some time. And you could ask yourself: Why couldn't the enforcement response be quicker? But there's strength in that too, because they want to do this stuff carefully. A credible enforcement response means that when you bring charges, they are well supported.
LARRY KUDLOW: I don't want to take advantage of your time, but I need you for a couple more minutes on two issues. A year ago my friend, former colleague, and partner Jim Cramer asked you if you believe the euro currency would survive. You said yes. Do you still believe that?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I do. I do. But let me just say a bit more about this. You know, there are people who believe that in Europe that they would like their own currencies back. And there are people in Europe who believe that the only way through this is for Germany to finance a set of unsustainable commitments across the rest of Europe.
But between those two extremes there is a very strong core group of people that are committed to doing the things they need to make monetary union work. And they have put in motion a set of long-term reforms they call fiscal union, banking union, that are in the service of that agenda, and of course they are pushing very tough economic reforms that are necessary no matter what.
But what is very important is that they not leave the continent hanging on the edge of the abyss as a device for getting more leverage for reform, because that leaves the rest of the world much more exposed to the financial pressure and slower growth from Europe.
So what they obviously need to do still is to pull the monetary back from the edge and put in place things that are better for growth in the short term, more stability comes in the financial system, and enable these countries like Italy, who are doing very tough reforms, to borrow --
LARRY KUDLOW: Have they pulled back from the edge? It is said that you, in your conversations, you have been one of the biggest drivers to get the euro officials to move faster. I see that, hear that, and I congratulate you on that. Are you satisfied that they're back from the edge?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: They are not satisfied, and they should not be satisfied because they haven't pulled it back from the edge far enough yet, and they have not delivered or put in place a fully credible set of reforms to make sure people have confidence in their banks, they have enough capital, deposits are safe, that (inaudible) can borrow with affordable rates as they reform, and that they're doing some things for growth.
So those things are still in process, and they need to do the short-term things, not just the long-term reforms. We can't want it more than them, but we have a huge stake in them successfully navigating what is still a very challenging set of problems.
LARRY KUDLOW: All right. Last one.
To my delight, you and I have a good relationship, we talk on the phone. You've been reaching out, as you have for many others. I'm going to assume your public statements that you're coming to the end of your tenure-ship at the Treasury at some point in the month ahead. I congratulate you for your term; but, of course, we have to all face this, anybody that works in government.
What do you suppose your legacy will be as a Treasury Secretary during what we will all know as a tumultuous period?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: You know, the dead don't get to write the epitaphs. Epitaphs are written by the living. So I'll answer a different question.
LARRY KUDLOW: Well, Kissinger wrote his own history. Did a hell of a job. You might think about that as a model.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Henry Kissinger, you know I worked with him.
LARRY KUDLOW: Yes, I know.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: As I say, let me answer a different thing, because this matters a lot. I think it's important to remember that the fortunes of people in this room are tied to the fortunes of all Americans. And we're not living just with the aftereffects of a devastating financial crisis, but we have a challenging mix of long-term challenges, not just our long-term fiscal challenges, but remember, even before the crisis, remarkably alarmingly high number of American kids are born into poverty. 40 percent of American children born to parents on Medicaid. Long erosion in the basic quality of American education.
These are fundamental concerns, should be for all Americans. And make sure that you help people understand that we need to get better outcomes in Washington to fix -- governments are essential to fix education, design of the safety net, incentives for private investment, public infrastructure. Those are things that require better policy and action of government, can't be solved with government just sitting there, sitting there doing nothing.
LARRY KUDLOW: And so ... next chapter?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: For the country?
LARRY KUDLOW: For you.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: For me. Feels like a long way away, Larry. I've got a lot ahead of me still.
LARRY KUDLOW: Let me speak personally, I hope for all the group. We wish you all the best. We thank you, Secretary Tim Geithner, both for your service and for your time this morning.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Thank you, Larry.
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