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Bank Bailouts in the Black, Watchdog Asks “And the Toxic Mortgages?”

By: Carrie Bay

The bailout programs used to prop up the nation’s banking system are now in the black. The U.S. Treasury announced this week that the investments it made in banks, beginning in 2008, to prevent the sector from folding under the weight of the financial crisis have now turned a profit.

Three more financial institutions repaid a combined total of $7.4 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds Wednesday. With these proceeds, taxpayers have now recovered $251 billion from TARP’s bank programs through repayments, dividends, interest payments, and other income.

That exceeds the original investment Treasury made through those programs ($245 billion) by nearly $6 billion.

“While our overriding objective with TARP was to break the back of the financial crisis and save American jobs, the fact that our investment in banks has also delivered a significant profit for taxpayers is a welcome development,” said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Treasury says the only outlay which it doesn’t expect to be recovered is funds disbursed for foreclosure prevention programs.

One of Treasury’s harshest critics, TARP Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky, cast his own dark cloud over the program’s proclaimed success, even as his final day in office approached.

Barofsky officially stepped down from his post Wednesday. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times Tuesday, he wrote that while TARP has pushed Wall Street to profitability

again, it has done little to honor the promises made to Main Street.

Barofsky reminded readers of the original intent of TARP, the intent that was put to lawmakers when they voted on the controversial $700 billion program – to buy up toxic mortgages.

“Treasury promised that it would modify those mortgages to assist struggling homeowners. Indeed, the [legislation] expressly directs the department to do just that,” Barofsky wrote.

But, “almost immediately,” Barofsky said, “Treasury’s plan for TARP shifted from the purchase of mortgages to the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation’s largest financial institutions, a shift that came with the express promise that it would restore lending.

“Treasury, however, provided the money to banks with no effective policy or effort to compel the extension of credit,” He said. “There were no strings attached: no requirement or even incentive to increase lending to homebuyers, and…not even a request that banks report how they used TARP funds.”

Barofsky continued, “Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals…may have so damaged the credibility of the government as a whole that future policy makers may be politically unable to take the necessary steps to save the system the next time a crisis arises.”

Treasury officials say they believe the bank bailouts will ultimately provide a lifetime profit of approximately $20 billion to taxpayers. And with the profit reaped from the banks, TARP as a whole – including foreclosure programs, support for AIG, and the auto industry bailout – will result “in little or no cost to taxpayers,” Treasury said.

Critics of the program, though, aren’t putting much faith in Treasury’s claims. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina) is chairman of the House’s oversight subcommittee on TARP and bailouts.

He told the New York Times, “The estimates have been consistently off and Treasury has consistently changed the metric for success. In the beginning, they weren’t touting payback – they touted effectiveness. Now, they are touting payback but ignoring the moral hazard this program has created.”