Talking about TARP and Chairman Bernanke

The Business News Network of Canada interviewed me yesterday about TARP and Fed Chairman Bernanke’s “Person of the Year” award from Time Magazine.

Here’s a link to the video of the interview. Going in, I was focused on the following talking points:

  • Within current budget rules, the Congress can indeed use unspent TARP money to “pay for” new spending initiatives. However, it needs to cut TARP authority by $2 for every $1 it wants to spend.
  • Those “savings” are mythical, however. Treasury Secretary Geithner recently predicted that TARP would use at most $550 billion of its $699 billion in authority. Trimming TARP’s authority by a moderate amount (e.g., $50 billion) will thus generate no actual budget savings. Only deep cuts would begin to generate some savings.
  • The financial system is not fully healed, and the United States still lacks a coherent system for dealing with large, failing financial institutions. For that reason, I support Geithner’s extension of TARP as an insurance policy. However, I do not support the TARP extension if its main effect it to allow Congress to use TARP “cuts” to generate mythical budget “savings” or to encourage creative uses of TARP money.
  • Usain Bolt had a remarkable year, but Chairman Bernanke is still the right choice as Person of the Year. And he’s the right choice for Fed Chairman.
  • But his work is only half done. If he can figure out an exit strategy that keeps the economy growing, avoids new asset bubbles, and sidesteps inflation, then maybe he will be Person of the Year again next year.