Saturday, October 02, 2010

Goodbye To TARP, But Good Riddance?


The Troubled Asset Relief Program expires Sunday, meaning the Treasury Secretary can commit no more funds from the bailout legislation Congress passed two years ago.

Since then, the TARP, which gives the Secretary enormous power to spend up to $700 billion in basically any manner he pleases in order to buttress the economy, has been reviled as the mother of all bailouts. Among other things, it has been used to assist banks and insurers, bail out General Motors and Chrysler, and solve America’s foreclosure problem. It kicked off the anti-government spending movement, which has culminated in the success of many Tea Party candidates this year.

To be sure, TARP has had its faults, including a lack of transparency, failure to fix the housing market and mission creep. (It was supposed to be used to relieve banks of toxic assets, remember?) Read any of watchdog Neil Barofsky’s quarterly reports to Congress for an accounting of them.

But was TARP such a bad idea? Increasingly, it’s looking like the answer is “no.” The Treasury Department now estimates that losses to the economy from the TARP will be $50 billion at worst. By any measure, that’s a lot of money, but it’s not anywhere close to the $700 billion that TARP opponents have argued that taxpayers are responsible for. In fact, not even $400 billion in TARP money has been spent. From The New York Times Friday:

Whatever the final losses from housing, auto companies, A.I.G. or smaller banks, those will be offset by taxpayers’ profits from the big banks that have been the focus of their ire since 2008.

They have repaid their loans and Treasury has collected about $25 billion more from dividends and proceeds from the sale of warrants held as collateral, officials say. Many smaller banks hold on to their loans, however, reflecting their weakness and the desire of some others to keep the money given its advantageous terms. Scores are behind on dividend payments to the Treasury.

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