CBO drops estimate of TARP cost to $19 billion
The Troubled Asset Relief Program will end up costing taxpayers $19 billion, according to the latest estimate Wednesday from the Congressional Budget Office. Congress cleared the Treasury Department to launch TARP in October 2008 to provide what was estimated at the time to be $700 billion in purchasing and guaranteeing "troubled assets" in the midst of the financial crisis. The CBO estimates that $432 billion will end up being disbursed through the program. The $19 billion cost estimate is down from $25 billion the CBO projected in November and $66 billion in August. Most of the cost will come from assistance to the securities insurer American International Group (AIG), the automotive industry and the programs aimed at preventing foreclosures such as the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Hardest Hit Fund. TARP paid out $68 billion to AIG, which has repaid only $2 billion of it since, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Most of the drawdown in estimates comes from more gains on the investments in automotive companies like General Motors (GM). But the CBO also said because housing programs, such as HAMP, are not reaching as many borrowers as originally estimated, the cost will come down. Republicans have used this fact in their efforts to end the program. Critics of TARP, and there are many, point out that the true cost of the program will be the moral hazard created because of it. Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, long argued that these rescued companies will only be encouraged to take unnecessary risks again, knowing the government will come to the rescue in times of crises. But Assistant Treasury Secretary Tim Massad and others in the Obama administration claim the Dodd-Frank Act provided regulators with the necessary means to wind down those companies should they fall in trouble again. "When the TARP was created, the U.S. financial system was in a precarious condition, and the transactions envisioned and ultimately undertaken engendered substantial financial risk for the federal government," the CBO said. "The costs directly associated with the TARP, when taken in isolation, have come out toward the low end of the range of possible outcomes anticipated when the program was launched." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.