US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Washington is mulling the possibility of tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a measure to meet supply disruption in case the situation in Iran gets worse. Image Credit: EPA

Washington: US Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner warned Congress against repeating last year's "very damaging" debate over the debt limit and said the economy is stronger than at any time in the past several years.

"It would be good for the country, if this time, they did it with less drama and less politics and less damage to the country than they did last summer," Geithner said on NBC's Meet the Press programme yesterday, referring to lawmakers' reluctance to raise the debt ceiling until an 11th-hour agreement with the Obama administration in August.

Geithner has said the US won't hit its debt limit again until late in the year.

"Americans generally should feel much more confident about the basic strength of the economy than they would have felt anytime in the last four or five, six years," Geithner said. Still, "it's a very tough economy."

Geithner is defending President Barack Obama's record as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has sharpened his criticism since Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican race April 10. Geithner also spoke in interviews airing today on CBS's Face the Nation and ABC's This Week programmes.

"Obviously, we've got a lot of challenges ahead and some risks and uncertainty ahead," Geithner said on ABC. Those risks include the European debt crisis and oil prices, he said.

Last year's months-long debate over raising the debt limit caused "a precipitous drop in consumer confidence and business confidence," Geithner told NBC. "Those drops in confidence were like what you saw in a typical recession. It was very damaging, completely unnecessary, and very avoidable."

Buffett Rule

Geithner, asked what the US jobless rate will be on election day, told CBS that "if the economy continues to gradually strengthen like it's been doing, then the unemployment rate will be lower."

Geithner also told CBS that the administration would continue to advocate the so-called Buffett Rule, a proposed minimum tax on people making at least $1 million (Dh3.67 million) annually.

"If we don't push for things that make sense, then we're not governing," he said.

The minimum tax is named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who says he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, largely because of the preferential treatment given to capital gains and dividends.

Obama has cited Buffett and his secretary in campaigning for the tax, saying the wealthy shouldn't pay a lower rate than middle-income individuals.

The Buffett Rule is scheduled for a procedural vote in the Senate today.

Geithner also said global economic growth and "concerns about Iran" have contributed to higher gasoline and oil prices in the past six months. Future costs could depend in part on "whether our broad efforts to bring Iran to the table and deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear missions are successful."

Geithner reiterated that he won't remain Treasury secretary if Obama wins re-election. One term "seems like the right amount of time for me," he told CBS.

Men have suffered more

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told CBS that Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney's assertion last week that 92.3 per cent of jobs lost during the Obama administration had been held by women was a "ridiculous and very misleading way of looking at the recession."

The statistic was rated "mostly false" by PolitiFact, a nonpartisan website that checks political claims. Male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing lost more jobs early in the US economic downturn — when George W. Bush was president — while women were more heavily represented in the job losses that came in the later months, when state and local governments laid off public-sector workers such as teachers. Romney is counting job losses from the start of the Obama administration, a time frame that only counts the later part of the recession. Overall, more men than women have lost jobs during the entirety of the nation's economic struggles, the site reported.