In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown caused by the government's propagation of the sub-prime housing market, George W. Bush implemented the Troubled Asset Relief Program, TARP for short. His then secretary of Treasury, Hank Paulson and Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, advised the beleaguered president it was the only way to prevent a financial Armageddon. His vice president, Dick Cheney, advised against it, ultimately being right on this issue as he was on so many others.
TARP, as its name implies, was 700 billion taxpayer dollars that were earmarked to buy the mortgage backed securities comprised almost entirely of sub-prime loans made to people who were unable to repay them. The loans were required by bad law pushed mainly by Democrats to make the mortgage industry more "fair" to low income buyers. However, somewhere along the line, Bernanke, Paulson, and company decided it would give the government more control over the situation if they used much of that money as loans to banks that did not need or want the money, ultimately to enable government to manipulate the banks into submission.
It was a lie that the banks needed the liquidity the TARP money provided. Prior to the crisis, U.S. banks had more money held in reserve than at any other time in history, a hefty 680 billion dollars. The banks' lack of liquidity needs was also demonstrated by low deposit rates. In a free market system, when banks need liquidity they raise deposit rates on CDs, savings accounts, and other deposits to attract customers' money. Deposit rates have actually been driven down over the last six years because of government interference.
Those who claim that "all the TARP money was paid back in full," are ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst. While the TARP funds that were loaned out were repaid, many within 18 months, that only accounted for about 75% of the total funds allocated. The other 25% slipped into the Twilight Zone of government bureaucracy known as "administrative costs." Almost the same amount, 25% of the total, was given to the quasi-government agencies at the epicenter of the sub-prime market, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Recently, it was reported that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had paid back the TARP money, with interest. But being an agency of the Federal government, the "pay back" was more of an accounting trick than an actual repayment of funds.
The worse part of the TARP boondoggle was not so much the hard earned taxpayer dollars given to banks that did not need it, it was the flood gates of spending and regulations that were open wide enough for President Obama to fly Air Force I through on his way to the golf course. It is apropos that many misdirected folks on the Right defend the TARP bailouts, seeing as how the taxpayer dollars used to fund the program were misdirected so horribly from their original purpose of buying up toxic assets backed by sub-prime loans.
It is curious that those who defend the TARP bailouts point to the funds being repaid as the only metric of success. But to those interested in the truth, the recent Fed ruling giving banks until 2017 to rid their balance sheets of the toxic assets that TARP was created to discharge, is proof of the program's failure. The recent government case against Bank of America and its former CEO, Ken Lewis, for bad loans on the books of Meryl Lynch, which BofA was forced to buy at the behest of the Bush administration, is an example of the real purpose of TARP. TARP was meant as a governmental power grab over the financial industry, first in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, and then exponentially in the Obama administration. Dick Cheney and others knew that the heavy hand of government, exemplified by programs like TARP, only serve to weigh down the free market and prolong the agony originally caused by government incursion into those markets.