Why Geithner's Treasury Leadership Proved Divisive

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ President Barack Obama has saluted the outgoing Timothy Geithner as one of the best U.S. Treasury secretaries ever. He's surely been among the most contentious.

Not since the Great Depression had an administration inherited so many grave financial threats at once. To many, Geithner deserves credit for helping steady the banking system and helping restore investor confidence. Yet his toughest critics say Geithner's policies consistently favored big banks over ordinary struggling Americans.

When Geithner became Treasury secretary in January 2009, the economy had sunk into a deep recession. Unemployment was surging. Stock prices were sinking. The financial system was teetering.

Geithner, whose last day in office is Friday, was an administration point man on all these issues. Here's a look at some of the crises the Treasury confronted on his watch:

â¿¿ BANK BAILOUTS

In the bleakest days of the financial crisis in 2008, the Bush administration got Congress to approve a $700 billion government bailout fund: the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

By the time Geithner took office, billions had been handed out to the biggest banks. Many were considered at risk of failing because of their huge investments in subprime mortgages that were souring.

Opponents charged that TARP, a taxpayer-funded bailout, let banks evade responsibility for reckless gambles. Geithner countered that the banking system had to be stabilized. The bailout was deemed necessary to get credit, the essential lubricant for an economy, flowing again.

In the end, the banking system was bolstered with the help of TARP and a separate Geithner initiative requiring the largest banks to undergo "stress tests." The tests calmed investors by showing that the banks could withstand an even worse downturn.

TARP distributed $245 billion to banks. So far, it's brought back $268 billion for a return of $23 billion.

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