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Treasury Sec. To Charlotte Bankers: 'We'll Be Tough As We Need To Be'

Sec. Geithner (L) being shown the Siemens plant in Charlotte by Mark Pringle, the plant's VP of Operations.

Sec. Geithner (L) being shown the Siemens plant in Charlotte by Mark Pringle, the plant's VP of Operations. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner visited Charlotte Wednesday to tour a Siemens manufacturing plant and take questions from business leaders and elected officials. Not surprisingly, much of the discussion centered on controversial new reforms for the financial sector. Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan gave Secretary Geithner a gift with some serious subtext yesterday - a replica set of gold coins from the 1830s made in Charlotte by one of the earliest branches of the U.S. mint. "For him to take back to Washington to remind him that our financial roots are deep and significant here in Charlotte," explained Morgan. As if the secretary could forget. He was a key player in crafting the bailout plan for big banks including Bank of America and Wachovia Wells Fargo. Now, Geithner is helping develop new financial regulations some banks say limit their ability to lend money and make a profit. The question on many minds in Charlotte was the one Chamber Board chairman Frank Emory came right out with. "So, Mr. Secretary, if someone held the notion that this administration is hostile to the financial services industry, would that be true or not?" asked Emory. "It would not be true," said Geithner, and quipped there are just as many people who think the Obama administration is being too easy on the banks. "We're trying to strike a balance," said Geithner, but gone are the days when "banks get to write their own rules." "These are tough reforms - they're tough where they need to be tough," said Geithner. "I mean look at the damage caused to the innocent - not just by a few bad actors in the financial system - and there were a few bad actors in the financial system - but look at the damage caused by that fundamental mistake of letting a huge amount of risk build up." As for the argument that financial reforms found in the so-called "Dodd-Frank" legislation will hurt community banks or making the big banks even bigger, Geithner says that argument has "no merit." One of those reforms is the much-discussed limit on fees banks charge merchants who take debit cards. During his Charlotte visit, Geithner's tone on financial reform was less combative than his boss struck during the State of the Union speech, but the secretary didn't offer much solace to bankers here who worried about future reforms they may have to swallow. "We'll be as fair as we can be, but tough as we need to be," said Geithner.