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CNBC TRANSCRIPT: CNBC'S "SQUAWK BOX" SITS DOWN WITH TREASURY SECRETARY TIMOTHY GEITHNER TODAY

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
CNBC.com
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

WHEN: TODAY, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3RD AT 8AM ET

WHERE: CNBC'S "SQUAWK BOX"

Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner today, Thursday, December 3rd at 8AM ET on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

All references must be sourced to CNBC.

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BECKY QUICK, co-host: All right, welcome back, everyone, to the Treasury Department's cash room.

This is where we are for the entire morning, and right now we are joined by a very special guest, Secretary Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary.

And, sir, thank you very much for joining us.

Secretary TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Nice to see you all. Welcome to this great building.

QUICK: It's a beautiful building, and we appreciate you having us here this morning. You know, we're here to--this morning to talk about jobs because that is the focus of the morning. Tomorrow we get the new unemployment numbers, and that's a huge focus for everyone here. What is the best we can hope for out of this job summit that's coming today at the White House?

Sec. GEITHNER: Let me start by saying, you know, the economy is healing. We suffered this enormous trauma, but the economy's healing. It's growing again. Pace of job loss is coming down quite dramatically, quite rapidly. And you see parts of the economy; technology quite strong, exports quite strong. So things are improving, and the strength is accumulating. But a lot of damage done to this economy. Unemployment's very high. Huge damage to confidence in business and households, and that's going to take some time to heal and repair.

Our job is to now transition from rescuing the economy, breaking the back of the financial panic, putting out the financial fire, stabilizing this economy, to driving growth and innovation. And what the president's going to do today is listen to a range of ideas for how the government can help drive growth and innovation in the private sector.

QUICK: Although, in some ways, the administration will have its hands tied in how much more they can spend at this point. What's your biggest concern from the Treasury's perspective as, you know, the idea that you still have to sell these Treasury bonds as we've been getting into deeper and deeper deficits?

Sec. GEITHNER: Our biggest challenge now is growth and bringing down unemployment, creating jobs, getting private companies investing again.

That's our overwhelming challenge. Nothing is possible without that. We're making good progress towards that objective, but we got a ways to go. Now, of course, we all recognize, the president recognizes that once we get this economy growing again, we're going to have to shift to bring down these long-term deficits. They're too high, and we're going to have to bring them down over time. Everybody understands that. Without that, economy will be weaker, growth will be weaker and the future of private investment will be lower. So we understand that basic balance. But the important thing to recognize is right now it's all about growth and jobs, has to be about growth and jobs. And that's the best way to make sure we have the ability to shift to going back to living within our means, bringing down these long-term deficits. That's the basic strategy.

STEVE LIESMAN reporting: Is the biggest risk now still getting out too early?

Sec. GEITHNER: We're not going to do it, so it's not a risk. And it's a risk we control. But I think generally, as you heard me say many times, the classic lesson of governments in crises, the classic mistake they make is to put the brakes on too early, to do premature declarations of victory, to stop, to reverse before things are healthy enough to withstand the withdrawal sort--remember, the government's here just as a bridge to return to private sector growth and activity. We've got to provide that bridge. But it's only a bridge. And again, right now--and this is what the president's going to do today is to look for ways that the government can help drive innovation and growth in the private sector.

JOE KERNEN, co-host: The--for a while you didn't want to take money back from the second round TARP guys.

Sec. GEITHNER: I wouldn't--I wouldn't say it that way.

KERNEN: You wanted--you wanted to leave it out there because--yeah?

Sec. GEITHNER: Every minute we were trying to make sure we could get that money back for the taxpayer...

KERNEN: But not too early.

Sec. GEITHNER: ...but still leave them with a strong enough capital position that the banks are--could do what banks are supposed to do...

KERNEN: Right.

Sec. GEITHNER: ...which is to provide loans to their customers, help support recovery.

KERNEN: Is Bank of America in that position, in your view?

Sec. GEITHNER: Well, they are.

KERNEN: It must be, because you let it--you let it happen, right?

Sec. GEITHNER: You know, what we did is we sat together with the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, the chairman of the FDIC, head of the OCC, the principal bank regulators in the country. We did this about two and a half months ago. We sat around a table and said, `OK, how do we move to this next stage and make sure we're leaving it a banking system strong enough to support growth and lending, and still have private cap--this public capital come back to the taxpayer?' And the way to do that was to make sure banks are going to replace that public capital, Treasury's investments...

KERNEN: Mm-hmm.

Sec. GEITHNER: ...with capital from the private sector. Because private capital is better than capital from the government, it's more permanent, it's more healthy for the institutions. And as you've seen the markets react as banks have repaid and raised capital, the market views them as stronger because of that.

KERNEN: But the--Bank of America's called sharply higher today. I don't know whether it's now they can get a decent CEO or because it shows the strength of...

Sec. GEITHNER: No, I think because it shows--and again, I don't want to overdo it. You know, we got a lot of challenges ahead.

KERNEN: Right.

Sec. GEITHNER: But I think it shows confidence that there's--that these institutions can go raise capital, repay the government with interest. And, of course, they're repaying it with substantial return on these investments.

KERNEN: Is it ironic that the compensation caps turned out to be, like, almost a warped way to get them to pay back quickly and to get out from underneath the government?

Sec. GEITHNER: No. Remember, we were deeply reluctant investors in the US financial system. We only did it because it was the only way to save the economy from a what--much worse outcome. And it is good for banks to want to get out from under the temporary assistance the government provided. That is a healthy sign. You don't want institutions relying on this excessively. So we have worked very hard to make sure we are weaning them from the emergency support...

KERNEN: Mm-hmm.

Sec. GEITHNER: ...getting them to get private capital and repay us. And you're going to hear--we're going to put out a report in the next couple days that shows the latest estimates of the return to the taxpayer on these investments. And I think you're going to see in that report for the first time a range of estimates say that the government of the United States, the Treasury, on--in terms of the investments in the banking sector, will earn a positive return.

KERNEN: But it's good that Wall Street's...

LIESMAN: Wait, wait. Any total, Tim, that you think...

Sec. GEITHNER: On the banks, I said.

LIESMAN: On the banks?

Sec. GEITHNER: Now, you--as you know, Steve, we had to do a range of other things.

LIESMAN: Well, not counting GM. You're excluding GM from that.

Sec. GEITHNER: Yeah. Yeah. And now--and it's appropriate to look at the whole thing. But let's just step back for a sec. We have been able to stabilize this financial system, put out this financial fire--worst in generations--at much lower cost than we anticipated, using far lower funds than we thought were necessary, because we relied on the strategy to get the private sector back in putting capital into these banks, and because we were careful and creative in trying to make sure that we were helping unfreeze these broader capital markets. Because of that, we're going to use substantially fewer resources than we thought. You've already seen substantial money come back into the Treasury with interest to the taxpayer.

The estimated losses on the entire program are going to be a very substantial amount below our initial estimates. And now what that means is--and this is very important. What that means is we're going to be able to use substantial resources, very, very substantial resources to meet not just the immediate challenges facing the country in terms of creating job growth, sparking private investment, but to meet our long-term fiscal challenges, which are going to be so important to make sure this economy is more healthy in the future.

CARL QUINTANILLA, co-host: What's the mix there? What's more important, addressing the longer term concerns about deficits or giving the economy a short-term boost, yet another short-term boost?

Sec. GEITHNER: People tend to view these things in acute conflict, and--but they're not. Let me explain why. You cannot address those long-term deficits, you cannot put the government of the United States in the position where we can go back to living within our means unless you repair the damage done to this economy, to the revenue base, to the basic fabric of confidence in the private sector in America. So the immediate near-term challenge is to get private investment growing again, growth back, companies creating jobs again, and that will put us in a better foundation to shift strategy, when growth is under way, to bring down those long-term deficits. So the way to think about it is, if we can be credible and make sure the American people understand, the world understands that we're going to bring down these deficits when growth is established, we will have more ability now to do what we need to do to get jobs created, to get investment growing again.

QUICK: But all that...(unintelligible).

KERNEN: Is...

QUINTANILLA: Is that shift a 2010 story?

Sec. GEITHNER: No, it's not a 2010 story. The basic path that we've laid out--we did in the president's budget initially, I think it's still right, which is sometime in '11 we'll begin the process of bringing those deficits down. And, you know, the way this happens is the deficits we have now, which are just unsustainably high, there's a, what economists call a structural piece of it we inherited. There's a piece caused by the crisis, and there's a smaller piece caused by the emergency measures we had to take in the Recovery Act to spark growth coming back as a bridge to recovery and demand. So what'll happen is that temporary support for the economy, emergency support, like you've seen in the financial sector, that will fade and run off. As growth recovers, that cyclical part of the deficit will start to come down because unemployment benefits, other transfers that increase in recessions will come down, revenues will go up. Then we're going to be faced with a structural deficit that is still too high over the long term. So we're going to have to work with Congress in ways to bring that down. But the basic challenge is this. If we can, with the Congress, make sure the world understands, American people understand that we will bring those deficits down over the medium term when growth is under way, we will have more ability now to do effective things to help spark a recovery in private investment and job creation.

LIESMAN: Will the next--will the next round of budgeting from this administration show the deficit as a percent of GDP reaching 3 percent within the budget horizon, or below?

Sec. GEITHNER: Very important point you're raising. For an economy like the United States, for us to achieve a more stable, more responsible, sustainable fiscal position, we need to get that deficit down towards 3 percent, in the range of 3 percent over the medium term, or the amount we've borrowed is going to keep rising...(unintelligible)...of our economy, and that's unsustainable. And that will lead to higher interest rates in the future. So for an economy like this, we need to get those deficits down to the range of 3 percent over the medium term to stabilize this basic situation. And we're committed to do that. And we will lay out, in the president's budget, ways to get us on a path towards that objective. Now, we're still living with enormous uncertainty still about how strong the economy's going to be, what that's going to do to revenues going forward. So I think people need to understand that right now the president's primary focus--and, Steve, it's the necessary focus--is, again, how to make sure that we're driving growth and innovation so that the private sector, after the government did exceptional things to arrest this crisis, the private sector is now leading recovery, creating jobs, increasing investment.

QUICK: You know, you mentioned that the reason that you didn't want to see the TARP money paid back sooner is because you wanted to make sure banks were doing what they were supposed to be doing, which is making loans. There are a lot of people who say banks are loaning when it comes to making mortgage loans, when it comes to making small business loans. How can you make them do what you want once the money's back?

Sec. GEITHNER: Financials in the United States today is in dramatically stronger shape than it was two months ago, three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago. You know, just 14 months ago, 15 months ago, you know, we were at the edge of catastrophic financial collapse. The rivets were coming off the submarine. So we're in a dramatically stronger position today. But you're absolutely right; although major companies in the United States, around the world can now borrow at much more--much more healthy interest rates today, can raise capital in the private markets, and although bank lending is not falling as much as you would expect in a recession like this, small businesses have a tough time getting credit, housing markets are still overwhelmingly dependent on government support, commercial real estate's still a problem, small community banks across the country are still going to have a tough time ahead. And so it's important for people to understand that this is not over, and we have work to do to make sure we're repairing this financial system.

And, you know, you don't have growth without credit, so we're going to keep looking for ways to make sure we're repairing those parts of the system that are still damaged. Those parts of the grid, you know, the power grid which is the financial system, are still--are still somewhat damaged. They're getting better, though.

KERNEN: That's a--rivets on a submarine. That's a very good one. I hadn't thought--if they come off a submarine, that is a bad outcome. I hadn't heard that analogy.

Is it frustrating to you that with Wall Street doing better and with banks doing better, that the criticism comes that the Obama administration or you, as Treasury secretary, are too close to Wall Street? It must be incredibly frustrating. This is what you designed everything to do, and yet now you have to answer to these charges that...

Sec. GEITHNER: It is a completely understandable thing that the American people look at what happened and say, `This is deeply unfair. And how could it be that we were put in a position where I lose my job, I lose my home, I lose my business,' because of what they perceive to be failures by banks and failures of the government to constrain risk-taking by banks. So that level of anger and understanding is completely understandable, and I share it deeply myself, personally, you know, because I've lived this world, saw how bad it was. And I feel a huge responsibility, as does the president, for making sure we are doing everything we can to fix this.

What the American people learned, I think, is that when the financial system is at the edge of collapse, what's unfair about this is just--it doesn't hurt people who hold equity stakes in banks, it hurts millions of people who were careful and prudent, didn't borrow too much, were perfectly responsible. And that's what's so deeply unfair and unjust in these things. But the fair and just thing, and the necessary thing for the government to do, is to make sure we're acting aggressively to fix it. That's what the president did. And that's why you're seeing money come back to the taxpayer with interest from the financial system. And these are very substantial returns for the American taxpayer. I mean, not just in their 401(k)s that are now up by 40 percent from the bottom; not just in house prices, which now look like they're a little more stable, rising in some parts of the country; not just in growth coming back and pace of job loss slowing dramatically; these are--but in the, you know, the direct-measured--dividends to the taxpayer, return on warrants, money coming back. We have 75 billion came back with interest already. You saw B of A's announcement yesterday, that's another 45 with interest coming.

There'll be more ahead as well. And that's a visible, concrete evidence of the return on a strategy. When governments say, `We're going to act to fix this,' you can do it more quickly and more cheaply, more effectively.'

LIESMAN: Mr. Secretary...

QUINTANILLA: So...

LIESMAN: So the only other...

Sec. GEITHNER: And, Steve, can I just add to this? And if you do it right, as I said, you're going to have substantial resources available to the United States to help address these compelling, near-term economic challenges we face, not just our long-term fiscal challenges.

LIESMAN: Hm.

Sec. GEITHNER: So that's the trend. And that is fundamentally just and helpful. But people are right to be deeply angry still. And the crisis caused just huge amount of damage to the basic fabric of confidence in this country. Americans look at their government, they look at the system, and they don't know anymore whether it's really going to work for them. And that's going to take some time to heal, but that's our responsibility to try to fix and repair.

LIESMAN: Probably the only other person who's been more of a lightning for criticism than you has been Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. You headed the search committee for President Obama as to who should be the next Fed chairman, and yet he's been the lightning rod for a lot of criticism from the far left and the far right, being responsible for where we are and the high unemployment rate. Is the criticism, in your mind, unwarranted?

Sec. GEITHNER: Absolutely. I think that what the chairman of the Federal Reserve did was absolutely essential. And he led the world of central banks in responding early to an escalating crisis, way ahead of governments around the world, recognizing, again, this had the potential to be enormously damaging. And he did things that had never been done in the past, with enormous creativity and bravery, frankly, under enormous criticism from people who said this was not a crisis, it would burn itself out, it would take care of itself. And we are lucky to have him in that job, and the president has full confidence in him, and we're confident he's going to be confirmed in that position. And he deserves a huge amount of credit for what happened.

QUINTANILLA: We're going to pause briefly, take a quick commercial break.

We'll be back in a moment with the Treasury secretary. A lot more continues

with SQUAWK's live coverage from the Treasury Department in Washington, DC.

Don't go away.

(Announcements)

QUINTANILLA: Welcome back to the Treasury Department. We're speaking this morning live with the Treasury secretary, Mr. Tim Geithner, who looks way too comfortable.

So we're clearly not throwing enough of the hardballs your way. We appreciate your time, Mr. Secretary. I want to ask you, you mentioned the things that are going right, the repair that's being done to the job market, the money we're getting back on TARP. Do markets and how they've reacted, stock markets over the last six months, are they reflecting that, and are they reflecting it fairly?

Sec. GEITHNER: You know, I don't ever talk about markets. I really don't and you don't want to have the secretary talking about markets, any particular markets. But overwhelmingly, what you've seen is you've seen the world going from deep concern about a global depression, deflation, financial collapse, to gradually greater confidence that you have recovery under way. And that's the main thing that's happened. You see that across all markets, and that's a fundamentally healthy thing. We should welcome it. But, you know, remember, don't--let's not overdue it. This is still a very difficult economy for many people, many businesses, a lot of uncertainty out there still; and we've got work to do to make sure that we're improving confidence that we're going to have an economy that's self-sustaining, can be led by the private sector, is going to bring down--bring down unemployment as quickly as possible.

QUINTANILLA: The Fed chairman was asked a similar question at a speech in New York a couple of weeks ago, and he said it wasn't obvious to him that asset prices were misaligned. Could you at least echo what he has said?

Sec. GEITHNER: No, I just generally don't do that. I mean, I don't generally talk about--you know, my job is to focus on making the economy stronger, making the finance system stronger. I try to focus on the fundamentals of policy, the fundamentals of what we're doing to improve opportunities for Americans and improve confidence in our financial future.

LIESMAN: But one area where people see as a sign of lack of confidence in the United States is the currency, which has been sinking pretty sharply over time.

Sec. GEITHNER: You're not trying to get me to talk about markets, Steve?

QUINTANILLA: Or the dollar.

LIESMAN: I don't care about markets. You want--I care about the dollar.

Sec. GEITHNER: Right. Absolutely I do. And as you know, I think it's pretty important for Americans to understand why it's important for us to have a strong currency. The dollar plays this exceptionally important role in the global financial system. That role depends on Americans understanding that we have an obligation to make sure that we are improving the basic financial underpinnings, economic underpinnings of this economy over time. We have to take that obligation very seriously. I take it very seriously. And I think the best thing we can do for the global economy and the US economy is make sure we have growth back on track and Americans understand that we will go back to living within our means, and this is the beth pass--best path to doing that.

LIESMAN: But how should people or markets believe that when you say that and the mark--and the dollar continues to sink in value against other currencies around the world?

Sec. GEITHNER: Again, without talking about markets, Steve, let me say it this way. Overwhelmingly, what we've seen is when we were at the worst stage of this financial panic, people were most worried about the basic health and fabric of the global economy. People bought--brought their money into dollars and Treasuries; and, as fear has receded somewhat, confidence returns, some of that has been unwound and reversed. So I think we view this as reassuring and as strength and confidence, but we're not going to count on that. We're going to make sure we're working very hard to make sure we're doing everything we can to improve confidence in this country and in this economy financially.

Remember, we--this crisis caused just enormous damage to basic confidence around the world and our financial system, and that's why it's so important, not just that we fix what's broken in our financial system, but we put in place, instead of financial reforms, that the world can look at and say and Americans can look and say, that will produce a more stable, more fair system in the future with better protection for consumers and investors. That's why we're moving so quickly to reform the financial system as we're trying to right this ship.

KERNEN: But just by having a jobs summit and not a dollar summit, it--jobs are going to be on everyone's mind until we get under 10 percent. Doesn't that mean the dollar can look for no support until we start to see improvement in the employment picture? Is there any way Bernanke can go up or the Fed can pull back on any...

Sec. GEITHNER: No. I don't agree with that. But, again, I don't want to talk about the markets or the futures stuff. But, again, our job is to make sure we are making this economy stronger, restoring confidence in Americans, middle-class Americans, all Americans, in their ability to get back to work, put their kids through college, earn a basic living, retire with security.

That's our basic obligation. We get those things right and we put our fiscal situation back on a sustainable path, then the world will be a stronger place and there will be more confidence generally and broad stability to the financial system.

QUICK: Mr. Secretary, you've mentioned a couple of times that because the banks are paying back TARP, you're going to have a substantial amount of resources that you can use for different needs. Senator Judd Gregg just sent an e-mail in, and he points out that he wrote the TARP law and it specifically says that the repaid funds have to be used to pay down the debt, not necessarily as a piggy bank. He also points out that the Treasury has to ask by the end of the year whether they will extend the TARP to October of next year. Will you?

Sec. GEITHNER: Judd Gregg is right in the sense the way the law is written, money we don't use, money that comes back, is available to reduce the debt, reduce future deficits, that's absolutely right. What I want to emphasize is because we've--we're going to spend much less than we thought, because we've had so much money come back with substantial returns to the taxpayer, because the estimated losses going forward are a small fraction of what we anticipated, that creates substantial resources to meet these mix of challenges we face as a country. Now, Congress, working with the president, is going to figure out what the right mix is in that case, but my point is that we can use substantial resources to help this economy back on track, as well as to help reduce the debt burdens we inherited.

QUINTANILLA: You...

QUICK: But will you ask for the TARP money to be extended to next October?

Sec. GEITHNER: Well, on that--I want to go back to what I said earlier. And you said it right when you asked the question. Again, if you look at the financial system of the United States today, if you talk to small businesses almost anywhere in the country...

QUICK: Mm-hmm.

Sec. GEITHNER: ...they will tell you what is true, which is credit is still very tight for parts of the American economy. Housing markets, as you said, overwhelmingly dependent on the government at this point. Small banks,commercial real estate, still under a lot of pressure. So we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to alleviate that risk of a credit crunch, and that'll help make sure that recovery is stronger.

QUINTANILLA: You mentioned confidence coming back. There's been some reports this week of controversial financing instruments like covenant lite, some PIK toggle notes. Have we gotten too comfortable? Are we going back to our old ways?

Sec. GEITHNER: You know, what happens in financial crises is that there's a long period where credit is too loose, it's too easy to get, it's too cheap, people borrow too much, banks lend too much, banks take too much risk; and then when the crisis hits, the storm hits, recession comes, they tend to over correct and they pull back too much. And that sucks some of the oxygen away from private companies that have good businesses, lots of customers, would be hiring and investing. So I think my view right now is the overwhelming challenge we face is still to make sure we're working to get credit back where it needs to get to viable companies. And I think, still, the bigger risk we face in parts of the economy is that some banks, not all banks, some banks are still being forced to pull back a little too much. And we need to find sensible ways to work against that.

KERNEN: I can't remember how much the Fed factored into your financial reform regulations and--a prominent role. When you saw Senator Dodd's proposal, I mean, how did--what did you think? How is it that it's so diametrically opposed to what the administration and Treasury would suggest?

Sec. GEITHNER: I actually don't think it's so--we're that far apart. I think the Fed has to play a central role, and there needs to be an institution that looks over and has authority over the major institutions that create the risk of hurting the stability of the financial--as we saw over this crisis.

We didn't do that. Fed did not have that authority over huge parts of this that has caused enormous damage. And a critical part of any reform is to make sure that there is a competent, strong supervisor in place to constrain risk taking by institutions that can imperil the stability of the system. Now, that's not the only thing that's important. You need to make sure you have an accountable entity that does consumer protection much better than we did, that the SEC and the CFTC have the ability to police fraud, go after manipulation, with more authority than they were given today. We need to make sure that the FDIC can do what it needs to do as the emergency room to resolve and close failing institutions. And that framework gives us a chance to have a stronger system. It's a specialized framework. People are doing highly specialized individual responsibilities. We don't think that you can run a system where you mush all those together in one place or give those to--future responsibilities to a committee.

KERNEN: But doesn't it take away the tools that the Fed used to save us from the brink? Doesn't it attempt to take those away? Is that a smart move?

Sec. GEITHNER: We have proposed to substantially reduce a large part of Fed responsibilities, like in consumer protection, which we think is sensible, so they can focus on the really important things. And we've also proposed a limit the emergency authorities they have so they don't cause moral hazard, they don't create the risk of--that investors and banks are living with the expectation the taxpayer will be there to save them from their mistakes in the future. So we're trying to get a balance that reduces their authority, has them focus on the really critical things, limits their emergency tools, so we're not creating greater risk of future crises.

QUINTANILLA: Really quickly, you gave--you talked to the Joint Economic Committee a couple of weeks ago, and you got some tough questioning from lawmakers who were not supportive of you, and you gave it right back as good

as you got. Did that feel good?

Sec. GEITHNER: I should tell you that when my wife reads those reports, she gets all hopeful that I'm going to go back to spend some time with my family.

So--but, you know, this is part of the job. And it's a good debate to have because we're having a really important debate of how we fix what's broken in this economy and help restore confidence to middle-class Americans, that this government's going to do a better job of meeting their basic needs for economic security, so it's a good debate to have, it comes with the job.

QUINTANILLA: I think we're going to get jobless claims in 30 seconds, so we're going to let you go, Mr. Secretary. We appreciate your time.

Sec. GEITHNER: Thank you, nice to see you guys.

KERNEN: Good to see you.

QUINTANILLA: Very generous, a half of an hour of your...

QUICK: Thank you.

LIESMAN: Thanks for hosting us.

QUINTANILLA: And the use of the cash room, a gorgeous room.

Sec. GEITHNER: Absolutely.

KERNEN: Mm-hmm.

QUINTANILLA: Secretary Tim Geithner.

QUICK: All right, we appreciate that.

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