Media grossly exaggerate potential cost of TARP

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

Media figures have cited the special inspector general for TARP in reporting that the potential cost of TARP could be $23.7 trillion. But by citing that misleading figure, these media figures have grossly distorted the risk to taxpayers.

In recent days, some media have cited Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Plan (SIGTARP) Neil Barofsky in reporting that the total cost of the bailouts could be $23.7 trillion. By citing that misleading figure, which includes programs that have been discontinued and those that have not been utilized, media have grossly distorted the risk to taxpayers, as Think Progress noted.

Indeed, in a July 21 article, The New York Times reported that "in the report accompanying his testimony, Mr. Barofsky conceded the number was vastly overblown" and includes "estimates of the maximum cost of programs that have already been canceled or that never got under way." Moreover, as Floyd Norris wrote for the Times, the figure "also assumes that every home mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac goes into default, and all the homes turn out to be worthless."

Media focusing on the "potential federal government support" figure of $23.7 trillion include:

  • During the July 20 edition of his Fox News show, Beck claimed that "the inspector general for the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program says that, you know, it was going to be like $3 billion -- or trillion. And then it was going to be $9 trillion. It looks like now it's only going to be $23.7 trillion to bail out the financial companies for TARP. Just -- but that's only just -- I mean, it's only almost $24 trillion."
  • During the July 20 edition of his CNN show, Dobbs claimed that "Politico today reported all the government bailouts, loans, and rescues could ultimately cost taxpayers a staggering $23 trillion. That number comes from Neil Barofsky. He's the special inspector for the Treasury's TARP program. Twenty-three trillion dollars is nearly double the annual size of this nation's entire economy, $14 trillion."
  • During the July 20 edition of the CBS Evening News, Couric claimed, "The $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the financial and automobile industries could cost you a lot more than that. The government's chief watchdog of the bailout will tell Congress tomorrow that, worst-case scenario, the price tag could total $23.7 trillion."
  • A July 20 USA Today article reported, "American taxpayers could end up spending as much as $23.7 trillion in bailing out the financial system. That is the conclusion drawn by Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), who is set to testify Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee."

But in SIGTARP's quarterly report, Barofsky made clear that "potential support" includes programs that "have been discontinued or even, in some cases, not utilized. As such, these total potential support figures do not represent a current total, but the sum total of all support programs announced since the onset of the financial crisis in 2007" (emphasis added):

tarpchart

By contrast, during the July 21 edition of CNN's American Morning, correspondent Christine Romans stated that "this isn't total potential losses. This is how much money has been guaranteed out there." She further reported:

ROMANS: TARP has created 12 programs involving $3 trillion. They've launched 35 investigations of waste and pilfering and mismanagement. The rescue efforts overall -- the total potential government support is the way they put it -- could top $23.7 trillion.

Now, a Treasury official calls that a distorted number. It doesn't take into account the fees and interest that has been paid. Fees and interest like this: Taxpayers have had $6 billion in dividend payments paid back, $200 million in interest payments. And also, you look, there was a bridge loan, to JPMorgan Chase to buy Bear Stearns. It was, I think, $14 billion. That's been paid back in full with interest and dividends.

There are other things like that, that we've gotten money back for. So the $23 trillion number -- it's a huge number -- but you know, serious economists will look at that number and say, hmm, they'll be able to kind of pull back where -- that's -- that would be -- that would essentially be the United States stopping -- just stopping business completely if we were to lose all that money.

From the SIGTARP report:

This section provides some background on the Federal agencies and financial rescue initiatives that have been implemented as part of the Government's response to the financial crisis. TARP programs must work in concert with these other agencies and their initiatives -- either as a direct partner, as in the case of the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility ("TALF"), or as a potentially overlapping business alternative for banks requiring funds. Though a huge sum in its own right, the $700 billion in TARP funding represents only a portion of a much larger sum -- estimated to be as large as $23.7 trillion -- of potential Federal Government support to the financial system. This support is spread among numerous Federal agencies, with the Federal Reserve System ("Federal Reserve"), providing one of the largest support packages ($6.8 trillion if each initiative were implemented to its maximum authorized level).

In an effort to provide context to the environment within which the TARP programs are operating, this section provides an overview of the Federal Reserve System and a description of the multiple financial-crisis-response programs throughout the Federal Government. This section is intended to provide perspective for understanding TARP. SIGTARP has no oversight responsibility for any of the programs set forth in this section that do not involve TARP funds. Additionally, throughout this section, SIGTARP uses the term "potential support" to represent the maximum amount of support a Government agency has specified that it could provide under a specific program. In those cases in which there are no specified maximum thresholds, SIGTARP has used the high-water mark of the program (the maximum amount actually expended or guaranteed) through June 30, 2009. Further, some of the programs have been discontinued or even, in some cases, not utilized. As such, these total potential support figures do not represent a current total, but the sum total of all support programs announced since the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.

From the July 20 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: The $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the financial and automobile industries could cost you a lot more than that. The government's chief watchdog of the bailout will tell Congress tomorrow that, worst-case scenario, the price tag could total $23.7 trillion.

In other economic news, the index of leading indicators is up for the third straight month. That's the latest sign that we could see an end of the recession later this year.

From the July 20 USA Today article:

American taxpayers could end up spending as much as $23.7 trillion in bailing out the financial system, but the U.S. government isn't disclosing with enough transparency how the money is being spent nor how the investment is performing.

That is the conclusion drawn by Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), who is set to testify Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

From the July 20 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: President Obama in April ordered his cabinet secretaries to identify at least $100 million in additional spending cuts within 90 days.

Three months later, we are still waiting for details. Today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, quote, "We'll release something in the coming days."

Meanwhile, the federal government is continuing to spend taxpayer money at an incredible rate; $1 trillion over the past three months alone. $100 million isn't much, but it might help.

Even more disturbing, Politico today reported all the government bailouts, loans, and rescues could ultimately cost taxpayers a staggering $23 trillion.

That number comes from Neil Barofsky. He's the special inspector for the Treasury's TARP program. Twenty-three trillion dollars is nearly double the annual size of this nation's entire economy, $14 trillion.

From the July 20 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Hello, America. Here's your hot list, some commonsense solutions to the stories the mainstream media is not covering and they're not doing their job on this.

By the way, it will break tomorrow. This just given to me, that the bailout costs now, according to just some schlub. Oh, just the inspector general for the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program says that, you know, it was going to be like $3 billion -- or trillion. And then it was going to be $9 trillion.

It looks like now it's only going to be $23.7 trillion to bail out the financial companies for TARP. Just -- but that's only just -- I mean, it's only almost $24 trillion.

From the July 21 edition of CNN's American Morning:

JOHN ROBERTS (co-host): The cost of rescuing the economy could add up to a lot more than many people expected. The government's chief watchdog at the bailout has come up with the worst-case scenario, and the price tag is a staggering $23.7 trillion.

CNN's Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business" this morning, to break it down for us. Look at that figure.

ROMANS: I know.

ROBERTS: It fills up our entire big-screen vista wall there.

ROMANS: And we've been telling you for months. This is trillions and trillions of guarantees and loans and promises and backstops for the financial industry and for the economy. So we knew it was a really big number.

This is the first time we've seen a price tag quite this big. And again, this isn't total potential losses. This is how much money has been guaranteed out there. It doesn't count all the collateral that's been put up against it. It doesn't count the money that's been paid back to taxpayers.

So let me roll down for you what the SIGTARP -- the worst acronym ever to come out of Washington -- the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Plan. SIGTARP -- you're going to hear it again.

This is the bailout cop. And this is what he found in his first big report. Excuse me.

TARP has created 12 programs involving $3 trillion. They've launched 35 investigations of waste and pilfering and mismanagement. The rescue efforts overall -- the total potential government support is the way they put it -- could top $23.7 trillion.

Now, a Treasury official calls that a distorted number. It doesn't take into account the fees and interest that has been paid. Fees and interest like this: Taxpayers have had $6 billion in dividend payments paid back, $200 million in interest payments. And also, you look, there was a bridge loan, to JPMorgan Chase to buy Bear Stearns. It was, I think, $14 billion. That's been paid back in full with interest and dividends.

There are other things like that, that we've gotten money back for. So the $23 trillion number -- it's a huge number -- but you know, serious economists will look at that number and say, hmm, they'll be able to kind of pull back where -- that's -- that would be -- that would essentially be the United States stopping --

KIRAN CHETRY (co-host): Right.

ROMANS: -- just stopping business completely if we were to lose all that money.

From the July 21 New York Times article:

Just how much could the bailout of the financial system end up costing American taxpayers?

Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program set up by the Treasury Department, came up with the largest number yet in testimony prepared for delivery Tuesday to a House committee. ''The total potential federal government support could reach up to $23.7 trillion,'' he stated.

But in the report accompanying his testimony, Mr. Barofsky conceded the number was vastly overblown. It includes estimates of the maximum cost of programs that have already been canceled or that never got under way.

It also assumes that every home mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac goes into default, and all the homes turn out to be worthless. It assumes that every bank in America fails, with not a single asset worth even a penny. And it assumes that all of the assets held by money market mutual funds, including Treasury bills, turn out to be worthless.

Posted In
Economy
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, CBS, CNN
Person
Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Katie Couric
Show/Publication
Lou Dobbs Tonight, CBS Evening News, Glenn Beck show
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