Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein said he would be willing to pay higher U.S. taxes if he thought it would help reduce the national debt.
“No one is so unpatriotic that they wouldn’t pay a little bit more to resolve it,” Blankfein, 58, said today in an interview on CNBC. He said that no one would be willing to pay higher taxes unless they’re sure it was part of a comprehensive solution to the country’s budget.
Blankfein discussed the U.S.’s fiscal challenges with Erskine Bowles, a Democrat and former White House chief of staff, and Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senator, who led a deficit-reduction committee that failed to win congressional support in 2010. All three emphasized the importance of Congress reaching a compromise to cut spending, raise revenue and encourage economic growth.
If there were “some compromise laid out, what kind of a stimulus do you think that would provide?” asked Blankfein. “I’d be a buyer of the market.”
Blankfein and JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, both of whom have been grilled by members of Congress in recent years about their own businesses, have turned the tables recently, publicly urging politicians to reach an agreement to reduce the U.S. debt. Dimon, 56, said yesterday the economy “would be booming” if Congress had passed the so-called Bowles-Simpson plan last year.
“We have a stake in this country like everybody else and I think we have the experience and the competence to let people know the consequences” of failing to address deficit spending and the national debt, Blankfein said. Blankfein, who backed Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2008 and hasn’t endorsed a candidate this year, said he’s “on the left-center side of things” politically.
Simpson and Bowles, whose plan was defeated by a 382-38 vote in the House of Representatives in March, are meeting this week with a bipartisan group of eight senators seeking to avert a “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and automatic spending cuts at year’s end. Simpson, 81, and Bowles, 67, also plan to begin a $30 million campaign to build public support for a debt deal.
The two have signed up about 75 to 80 CEOs for a fiscal leadership council, said Bowles, who serves on the boards of Morgan Stanley and Facebook Inc. and whose wife is a member of the JPMorgan board. Blankfein and Dimon are among the CEOs.
Asked by CNBC’s Steve Liesman if he might serve as U.S. Treasury secretary, Bowles said “I expect to be living in North Carolina for the rest of my life.”
Simpson said that using business people to win support didn’t guarantee success. “Politicians don’t like or believe the business people and the business people don’t like or believe the politicians,” he said.
The stock market’s recent gains indicate that traders are too comfortable with the idea that Congress will avert the fiscal cliff by the end of the year, he said.
Investors “really believe honestly that no Congress could be this stupid, and by God, they can,” Simpson said.
In response to a question from Liesman, Blankfein said he’s “not really concerned about the revelations” in a book due Oct. 22 by a former Goldman Sachs employee who has publicly criticized the firm. “I’ll tell you I’m not looking forward to the hoopla” that will surround the book’s release, he said, adding that he hasn’t read it.
The firm’s investigation of claims made by the former employee, Greg Smith, in a New York Times op-ed earlier this year didn’t turn up any evidence to support his allegations, Blankfein said.
Still “when you think about what happened in the last four or five years, it will go into the mix,” he said.
Blankfein and other executives at Goldman Sachs, the fifth-biggest U.S. bank by assets, were interrogated by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in April 2010. A report issued by the committee accused the firm of misleading investors into buying mortgage-linked assets just before the financial crisis, even as Goldman Sachs’s own traders were betting against them. The firm rejected the accusation, saying they were making markets for their clients.
In July 2010, Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $550 million to settle the Securities & Exchange Commission’s claim that the firm misled investors who bought a mortgage-linked investment called Abacus in 2007. The firm said in the settlement that marketing materials for the 2007 deal contained “incomplete information.”
Dimon, who spoke yesterday in Washington at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, was questioned by the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee in June over his bank’s $5.8 billion loss on derivative bets. JPMorgan is the biggest U.S. bank by assets.