Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress on Tuesday that efforts to strengthen the global financial system to prevent another deep crisis will falter if the United States drops the ball on overhauling regulation of its own banking system.
"We need to move on the reform agenda when the memory of the crisis is still acute," Geithner said in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Geithner also echoed remarks by President Barack Obama in Asia that, while the global economy is moving toward a recovery, countries can no longer rely on American consumers to serve as the sole engine of economic growth.
With the president in China wrapping up his first Asian trip, the treasury secretary emphasized that the United States and China "must be at the center of efforts to put the global economy on a more sustainable and balanced growth path."
"China has to move to take steps away from excessive reliance on exports and toward domestic consumption-led growth," Geithner said.
He said that significant cooperation among the world's 20 major economies had helped "put out the financial fire" around the world and restart economic growth.
"To establish a more global foundation for growth and avert future crises of this nature, we must rebalance global demand," Geithner said.
Countries with large trade surpluses like China and Germany must foster policies to support domestic growth, while countries with large trade and budget deficits like the United States will need to boost savings, he suggested.
Geithner testified on steps being taken by the world's 20 major rich and developing countries since their meeting in Pittsburgh in September.
At that meeting, following gatherings of the Group of 20 in London in April and in Washington, D.C., last November, participants decreed that henceforth the G-20 would take over the primary role of the earlier Group of Eight as the major international bloc for international economic cooperation.
At the Pittsburgh summit, the nations issued far-reaching promises to fix a malfunctioning economic system and to work together to come up with a set of new financial regulations to head off future meltdowns.
Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., told Geithner that while the G-20's response to the crisis seemed "unique and powerful," he questioned whether many concrete achievements had been accomplished. Kerry said he really didn't see that much had yet taken hold.
"I don't think that's quite fair," Geithner responded. He said "detailed negotiations are going on right now" behind the scenes on various aspects of international financial overhaul, including new standards for bank reserves. He promised "traction over time."
Asked whether the slow pace of congressional action on the Obama administration's proposals to overhaul financial regulation in this country could have a negative impact on global efforts, Geithner said "absolutely."
"We have to be able to set the international agenda on reforms. ... We'll have no credibility if we can't deliver in the United States."
The administration unveiled a financial overhaul package last spring. It would expand the Federal Reserve's powers over complex financial institutions and set up a new consumer financial protection agency. But it has bogged down in Congress. And in the Senate, Banking Committee Chris Dodd, D-Conn., recently unveiled a rival proposal that would limit the Fed's banking oversight powers.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, took issue with the way the administration got Congress to include more money for the International Monetary Fund in an unrelated emergency spending bill earlier this year, and said such support must be scrutinized more closely in the future, along with the evolving roles of the IMF and World Bank in the current economic environment.
Geithner promised the administration would work more closely with Congress on such issues, saying he recognized there was now "a high and skeptical bar" on providing such funds in the future.
Geithner said that the G-20 did not totally eclipse the earlier Group of Eight. "There will still be an important role to play" on some global issues for the grouping of eight powers, he said.
The Group of Eight includes the world's major older industrial democracies: the U.S., Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Italy and a relatively recent addition, Russia.
The G-20 includes these nations and adds Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, and the rotating European Union presidency.
Associated Press Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.