Top Treasury official visits Greece as eurozone exit looms

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Syriza's popularity had been waning over the past few weeks as Greeks weighed the consequences, but its chances may have improved over the weekend after International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde sparked Greeks' ire after calling them rampant tax dodgers in an interview with London's Guardian newspaper.

“I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens,” Lagarde told the newspaper. “Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time.”

The backlash against Lagarde's comments comes as a new Pew Research Center poll shows European unity fraying as a result of the economic crisis. Just 34 percent of those surveyed thought the EU strengthened the economy, and only 22 percent believed the economy will improve over the coming year.

"What started out four years ago as a sovereign debt crisis, morphed into a euro currency crisis and led to the fall of several European governments, has now triggered a full-blown crisis of public confidence: in the economy, in the future, in the benefits of European economic integration, in membership in the European Union, in the euro and in the free market system," Pew wrote.

The European crisis is also playing a starring role in U.S. politics, where Republicans warn of a similar impending debt crisis in the U.S. while Democrats argue the EU economy is hampered by low growth due to diminished government spending.

“We’re not that far behind,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said in a statement last week. “Which is why we must start getting serious about protecting U.S. tax dollars and ending the ‘too big to fail’ philosophy.  The only thing ‘too big to fail’ is America itself.”  

After meeting with officials in Athens, Brainard is headed to Germany, Spain and France, according to the Treasury Department.

Here is the full release: 

UNDER SECRETARY BRAINARD TO VISIT GREECE, GERMANY, SPAIN, AND FRANCE, MAY 29- JUNE 1, 2012

Under Secretary to Discuss Efforts to Achieve European Economic Stability and Growth

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced today that Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard will travel to Greece, Germany, Spain, and France on May 29- June 1, 2012. The Under Secretary will meet with senior government officials in each country to discuss their plans for achieving economic stability and growth in Europe.

On Tuesday, May 29, Under Secretary Brainard will meet with officials in Athens, Greece. On Wednesday, May 30, the Under Secretary will meet with officials in Frankfurt, Germany and Madrid, Spain. On Thursday, May 31, she will meet with officials in Paris, France and Berlin, Germany. On Friday, June 1, Under Secretary Brainard will continue her meetings in Berlin, Germany before returning to Washington, DC.