Geithner promises small business aid is coming soon

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"It should not take this long," added Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who also blasted Treasury for failing to respond to small banks interested in participating in the fund.

Geithner said he was also disappointed by the fund's tardy start, but said the program was "very close to moving ahead."

"We're close to being able to unleash that capital," he added.

The secretary defended the government's handling of the fund, saying that regulators had to make sure it was being used responsibly.

"We are being careful with the taxpayers' money," he said, adding that banking regulators need to review the healthiness of applying banks before handing their applications off to Treasury — and that members of Congress are not in the position to make that decision.

"None of you, I hate to say it, will be in a position to make a judgment on your own about whether they are viable or not," Geithner said.

Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) suggested at the hearing that the nation's deficit and debt issues are spooking small businesses.

While insisting the crisis did the most damage, Geithner agreed that a broad deal to rein in the deficit would boost businesses nationwide.

"If Congress can find a way to reach a bipartisan, comprehensive balanced agreement to bring down long-term deficits, it would help," he said. "It would be a sign that Washington works."

But any consensus with Republicans hit a rough patch after Geithner maintained that increases in revenue have to part of such a package.

"You have to make modest changes to revenue, there's no realistic alternative to doing it," Geithner said.

He also pushed back against accusations from several Republicans that excessive regulations arestifling private-sector growth, arguing new regulations were essential to prevent another crisis like the one that drove down the economy in the first place.

However, he added that regulators do need to be prudent when it comes to enforcing those rules.

"They should be cautious, they should be careful, but they don't have to overdo it," Geithner said.

Updated at 1:30 p.m.