What's behind mixed signals from Obama and Geithner on TARP?
President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared to contradict each other this week on whether the TARP program would be extended. The mixed signals reflect the political unpopularity of the bank bailouts.
President Obama said Tuesday that the TARP bailout program has served its purpose and is being wound down. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sent a different signal Wednesday, with the gist of his message being this: Not any time soon.Skip to next paragraph
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In a letter to Congress, Mr. Geithner said he is authorizing the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to continue through Oct. 3 next year, and that as much as $550 billion of the $700 in potential funds could be deployed. So the TARP, after having served its purpose over the past year, is going to keep on serving.
What do these seemingly mixed signals mean? They're a sign of how the politically-unpopular TARP remains a hot potato – something Washington wants to get rid of but can't. The financial system is still too shaky for the emergency support to be pulled away, though the rescues are proving less costly than expected, experts say.
An independent panel waded into these complicated issues with its own report Wednesday. The Congressional Oversight Panel, headed by Elizabeth Warren, came to some pointed but nuanced conclusions: The TARP, along with other strong government actions, "can be credited with stopping an economic panic," but big problems in the financial system remain, the report said.
The maneuvering over TARP comes at an important moment for three reasons:
• The economy is trying to emerge from recession, and the strength of the rebound depends in part on how the TARP program is managed.
• The Obama administration and Congress are making the case that TARP "savings" – as the program comes in with lower-than-expected costs – free up about $200 billion that could be spent for a jobs program.
• Congress is considering regulatory reform of the financial sector, and much of the effort boils down to the fundamental question of how to avoid TARP-style bailouts in the future.
The president and his Treasury secretary weren't quite talking past each other in their statements this week. Mr. Obama didn't say the program would end immediately but would "wind down" since the program "has served its original purpose." And Geithner framed his extension of the program as an "exit strategy."