Top US officials said on Sunday more steps may be needed to firm up economic recovery — including extended jobless benefits — and declined to rule out future tax increases to tame massive budget deficits.
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the government needed to show the will to reverse deficits after the recovery and would have to make some “hard choices” about whether this may include increasing tax revenues.
“We have to bring them down to a level where the amount we’re borrowing from the world is stable at a reasonable level,” Geithner said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “And that’s going to require some very hard choices. And we’re going to have to do that in a way that does not add unfairly to the burdens that the average American already faces.”
Asked if he could rule out new taxes, Geithner said: “I think what the country needs to do is to understand that we will do what it takes” to bring deficits down.
Republicans have voiced concerns about the White House’s stimulus-related spending and health care reform plans producing trillion-dollar deficits for years to come and eventually sapping US economic vitality.
“We have put trillions of additional debt on future generations of Americans,” Republican Senator John McCain said.
Top White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers later said Geithner was not laying the groundwork for tax increases, and added that none of the White House proposals would burden the middle class. But he, too, declined to rule out raising taxes as a means to control deficits.
“It’s never a good idea to absolutely rule things out no matter what, but what the president has been completely clear on is this: That he is not going to pursue any of his priorities, not health care, not energy — nothing — in ways that are primarily burdening middle-class families,” Summers said. “That is something that is not going to happen.”
There were signs the economy is starting to improve, Geithner said, but “we have a ways to go” before it starts growing enough to create jobs again.
Although economic forecasters expect output to turn positive in the second half of this year, Geithner said as that happens the pace of job losses will slow materially.
“As you go into 2010, we can’t just limp out of this thing. We need to be growing robustly to make sure that the unemployment rate comes down,” Christina Romer, chairwoman of the White House Council on Economic Advisers, said on CNN.
The administration of US President Barack Obama may have to look at extending unemployment benefits toward the end of the year to deal with the jobless rate and the looming expiration of aid to more than a million unemployed.
“I think that is something that the administration and Congress are going to look very carefully,” Geithner said.
He can count on some Republican support. Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina told Fox News Sunday he would “definitely support” extension of aid to the unemployed.
Summers, asked if the US needed a second fiscal stimulus program, said the Obama administration was focused on executing the US$787 billion spending plan passed in February.
Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on ABC strengthening confidence in the economy could be dashed if home prices were to take another turn downward. He said he didn’t believe that a steep drop was in store, but home prices had stabilized only temporarily.
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