THE federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, came to an official end last week.
The White House said it saved the U.S. financial system and hinted the $50 billion cost to taxpayers was a bargain. Neel Kashkari, who set up TARP in the waning days of the Bush administration, called it a "resounding success."
Others are less effusive. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, was there when Bush officials pointed to the abyss into which they said the financial system would crash without quick federal action. Yet today the physician-senator, who voted for TARP, likens it to heroic measures in the ER that look differently in hindsight.
Certainly, it will take more time to accurately assess TARP in a way that will inform policymakers going forward.
To be fair, TARP has suffered from some bad raps. First, lots of Americans believe it spent $700 billion, the full amount authorized by Congress late in 2008. The actual figure was about $365 billion. There's also the belief that TARP was intertwined with the federal stimulus package crafted by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, which itself has fallen into disfavor for failing to stimulate new private-sector job growth. The two are unrelated.
Still, there are a number of legitimate reasons to question TARP.
It was sold to Congress and the public as a program to buy up bad or toxic assets sinking the balance sheets of financial institutions. Yet within weeks of TARP's creation officials abandoned that strategy and started using the money to buy stocks of troubled institutions like AIG and General Motors, shoring them up.