Tim Geithner's appearance in front of Congress today was another embarrassment, perhaps more for the people's representatives than the Treasury Secretary. Still, Geithner offered a clumsy defense for paying out 100¢ on the dollar to AIG's counterparties, which included more than Goldman Sachs.
What they lacked in knowledge and nuance, Congress made up for in volume and OUTRAGE. The worst moment I saw was the utterly bogus comparison by Rep. Stephen Lynch between AIG's payout to Goldman (100¢ on the dollar!) and the bailout offer for Bear Stearns shareholders (only $2 per share). 100 is a bigger number than 2, you see.
Geithner was lucky to be doing battle with such an unprepared, unimpressive group.
His defense, such as it was, amounted to the following:
Had the Fed imposed haircuts on AIG counterparties, it would have led to AIG's credit rating being downgraded and the company (and consequently the economy) would have collapsed.
But AIG had already been downgraded, that's why the government stepped in with a bailout. At that point the firm's liabilities were taxpayer backed, so it strains credulity to say that extinguishing certain CDS it had written would cause systemic fallout in and of itself. Essentially what was happening here was unused insurance contracts were being extinguished. (Imagine a pro-rata refund from your insurer for a homeowner's policy it wants to cancel...)