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Geithner Does The Sunday Shows

I didn't see a whole lot new from the Treasury secretary substance-wise. But I did think he added a few helpful talking points to his repertoire. First, to illustrate his view that scarce financing has depressed the prices of toxic assets, Geithner trotted out a useful analogy: Imagine if you had to sell your house tomorrow, he said on "Meet the Press," and no one could get a mortgage. The price you could get wouldn't be very high, would it?

It's a fair point and a really helpful analogy for people trying to understand this stuff at home. But it's also worth turning around: If you had a house you'd bought for $100,000 and it was still worth 80K, is it possible that the price fall all the way down to 20 or 30K just because no one could get a mortgage? If it were really worth 80K, wouldn't some wealthy investor snatch it up at, say, 50K? I honestly don't know the answer. But it strikes me as plausible, in which case the scarcity of financing wouldn't be the whole story. As I say though, it's a nice way of illustrating at least part of what's going on in a pretty intuitive way.

Second well-constructed talking point (which I think Geithner used on both "Meet the Press" and "This Week"): Geithner said financial institutions took too much risk during the boom years, but that the danger now is they take too little--that they won't take a chance on a new business or a family that wants to send a child to college. It's hard to overstate how important it is to get this point across. If people think the point of fixing the banks (and the securitized loan market) is to make it possible for them to get credit, they'll support it. If they think it's to bail out Wall Street fat-cats, they won't. It's heartening to see Geithner home in on this.  

Just a final thought on style: Geithner has a tendency to tilt his head 10-15 degrees away from the questioner, then shift his pupils back to make eye contact. The effect is to make him look (literally) shifty. If I were prepping him, I'd suggest he look directly at the questioner as often as possible, so that the pupils stay in the middle of his eyes.

Overall I give him a B--would have been a B-plus if not for the shiftiness.

P.S. Per my previous item on left-over TARP money, Stephanopoulos said Treasury only has $32 billion of the original $700 billion left by ABC's calculations. In response, Geithner said Treasury had "$135 billion left of uncommitted resources," though he also said that "includes a judgment ... about how much money is likely to come back from banks that are strong not to need this capital"--that is, banks who decide to return their TARP money. It would be nice to hear more on that--I'm not entirely sure which banks he's talking about, how many there are, and how much it adds up to.

--Noam Scheiber