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- Sunday, January 27, 2013 - From Print Edition


WASHINGTON: Timothy Geithner left the US Treasury on Friday knowing the world’s largest economy, in freefall when he took office four years ago, has turned around and returned to the path of growth.


But Geithner, who steps down as treasury secretary, also leaves a massive burden of debt and deficits, the cost of rescuing a imploding financial system that even the best experts did not comprehend at the time.


In saving the banks, 51-year-old Geithner bears the stigma of having used taxpayer money to protect — some critics say reward — the reckless Wall Street behavior that caused the crisis.


From fights inside the White House over who to save, to pressing European counterparts to act, to fending off political attacks, the combative secretary nettled during the rockiest period for finance since the early 1930s collapse.


But, perhaps more than anyone save the Federal Reserve’s Ben Bernanke, he can claim credit for saving the economy.


Named to the treasury by President Barack Obama in January 2009, Geithner designed and oversaw two major bailout packages worth more than $1.5 trillion.


They saved major banks and the US auto industry and helped keep unemployment under 10 percent as businesses and local governments across the country laid off millions of workers in the first months of his term.


Critics on the right blasted Geithner and Obama for running up the country’s debt to banana republic levels, while from the left they were accused of not pouring nearly enough money into the problem.