Tim Geithner launched a fierce defence of his record as US Treasury secretary on Thursday as Republicans said his policies had failed and he should resign.

In an unusually testy Congressional hearing, Mr Geithner told his Republican critics that he refused to take responsibility for “the legacy of crises you’ve bequeathed this country”.

Kevin Brady, senior House Republican on the joint economic committee, told Mr Geithner he was a failure. “Unemployment skyrocketed …The deficit is becoming frightening …We are reduced to begging China to buy our debt and getting lectures from other nations on our financial disarray,” he said. “The public has lost all confidence in your ability to do the job.”

Mr Geithner shot back: “I agree with almost nothing in what you’ve said.”

Although the US economy has started growing again, last month the unemployment rate breached 10 per cent and is expected to stay high. With investment banks returning to profit but ordinary people still suffering, Republicans are increasing their attacks on the Obama administration over the economy.

The Treasury secretary faced an array of questions and criticism during the hearing, which was ostensibly about plans to reform financial regulation. On that topic, Mr Geithner urged Congress to press ahead with legislation to reform the US regulatory system.

He said reform would help to avoid a situation such as the government bail-out of insurance behemoth AIG in the future. He was criticised for his role in that rescue as then-president of the New York Federal Reserve.

“The United States of America …came into this crisis without anything like the basic tools countries need to contain financial panics,” he said. “Coming into AIG, we had basically duct tape and string.”

Mr Geithner also faced complaints that China was unfairly undervaluing its currency, the renminbi .

He replied that he was confident Beijing would soon move to flexible rates. “They understand they need to do it, I think they want to do it, and I’m quite confident they will do it,” he said.

He also defended the “extraordinary” actions taken to stabilise the economy and said the troubled asset relief programme was bringing good returns to US taxpayers.

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