Counterparties: SIGTARP vs. Treasury
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Two government agencies. Two completely different narratives of the bailouts.
Roughly a week after the Treasury Department extolled the virtues of America’s crisis-era bailout measures, a government watchdog has a very different story to tell. SIGTARP, the office created to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program and headed by Christy Romero, has released its latest quarterly report to Congress [PDF].
If you’re struggling to understand the financial crisis and its aftermath, don’t read them back-to-back. One is a story about an against-all-odds victory; the other is about the one that got away.
Last week Treasury estimated that TARP investments, excluding its housing programs, would yield “an overall positive return for taxpayers.” SIGTARP, clearly pushing back against Treasury, says: “It is a widely held misconception that TARP will make a profit. The most recent cost estimate for TARP is a loss of $60 billion.”
In statements to Politico’s Ben White and HuffPost’s Mark Gongloff, Treasury sticks by its story that the bailouts may turn a profit, telling Gongloff “most of the remaining projected cost [of TARP] ($46 billion) is related to foreclosure prevention aid, which was not intended to be recovered.”
It’s worth looking, then, at how foreclosure prevention money is actually being spent. In January, Treasury announced plans to significantly expand its widely maligned HAMP program for struggling homeowners.
SIGTARP’s recommendations for this HAMP expansion are pretty simple – they’re things like setting clear goals and making borrowers prove that they’re actually renting second homes rather than vacationing in them. But Romero complains that Treasury has largely refused to implement these recommendations. “Taxpayers and lawmakers, the office writes, “have an absolute right to know what the Government’s expectations and goals are for using billions of TARP dollars they’ll never get back.”
Regardless of which bailout narrative you believe, we can do better than spending billions without specific goals or accountability. That sounds a bit too much like the first round of bailouts.
And on to today’s links:
The triumph of the social animal – Chrystia Freeland
When credit cards go social – Felix
When Europe goes to extremes – John Lloyd
Wal-Mart’s bribery is sadly unsurprising – Robert Boxwell
The IMF’s Euro conditions are not what they seem – Hugo Dixon