Washington: President Barack Obama has thrown his weight behind his embattled Treasury chief, saying Timothy Geithner would not be allowed to resign.
Should Geithner offer his resignation, Obama told CBS he would turn down that offer and respond: “Sorry buddy, you’ve still got the job,” according to interview excerpts released Saturday.
Geithner has been under fire for his handling of the economic crisis and a political scandal over massive bonuses paid out by insurance giant American International Group, which has received bailout money funded by taxpayers.
In an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” to be broadcast Sunday, Obama said neither he nor Geithner had discussed a possible resignation by the Treasury chief.
Obama defended his $3.55 trillion budget and his $787 billion economic stimulus plan, but he acknowledged public frustration with continued economic woes.
“It’s going to take a little bit more time than we would like to make sure that we get this plan just right. Of course, then we’d still be subject to criticism,” he said.
“What’s taken so long? You’ve been in office a whole 40 days and you haven’t solved the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression,” he quipped.
In his weekly radio and video address, Obama said he remained committed to halving the deficit within four years and that his administration was scouring every corner of the budget to produce two trillion dollars in deficit reductions over the next decade.
“In total, our budget would bring discretionary spending for domestic programs as a share of the economy to its lowest level in nearly half a century,” he said.
The comments came as Congress was poised to launch debate next week on the budget Obama’s administration unveiled last month.
But the budget stumbled into hurdles on Friday when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast that the deficit could hit $1.845 trillion this year under the Obama proposal, quadrupling the 2008 record shortfall.
The CBO said its latest budget deficit estimate for fiscal 2009, which ends on September 30, would amount to 13.1% of the country’s total economic output.
Since its early January estimate of a $1.2 trillion gap, the CBO said the enactment of the stimulus plan, other measures to revive the economy and additional factors had hiked deficit projections for 2009 and 2010 by over $400 billion.
Republicans immediately seized on the report to blast Obama’s economic policies. “It’s worse than even the most pessimistic predictions for this budget,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
But Obama was quick to rebut his critics, arguing that his economic proposals offered a long-term solution to US structural problems and not “a wish list of priorities that I picked out of thin air.”
The proposals “are a central part of a comprehensive strategy to grow this economy by attacking the very problems that have dragged it down for too long: the high cost of healthcare and our dependence on foreign oil; our education deficit and our fiscal deficit,” he added.
Obama urged lawmakers not to shy away from the magnitude of problems they were facing, saying that Americans were watching them and waiting for them to lead.