So: Where’d the Money Go?

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) may be the most unpopular piece of legislation since the Congress repealed the catastrophic healthcare bill in the early 1990s. That was the one where a bunch of old people attacked Dan Rostenkowski as he got into his big car because they were so outraged that they had to pay more for their healthcare insurance.

TARP is unpopular with the politicians who voted against it. It is unpopular with the people who voted for it. It is unpopular with the department that administers it, with the woman who oversees it, and with the banks that got the money.

It is so unpopular with the banks that were bailed out with it that they have scrambled to pay back the money as soon as they could. Only today has the federal government said that yes, they can pay back the money.

Borrowing money from the Mafia is a little easier than borrowing from the government. The Mafia doesn’t care how much money you make as long as you pay back the money you borrowed (with a healthy premium on top). The government meddles in how much executives get, what kind of office trips they take, what kind of transportation they use, etc. The Mafia just wants the money. They don’t care what kind of car you drive.

The Mafia also allows you to pay the money back. In fact, they insist on it. It has been incredible to watch how the feds have fought off efforts to have these banks pay back the loans. Incredible!

One question I would ask the Treasury secretary is: Where did the money go? And if he gives the typical answer about how money is fungible and how it is impossible to really track the money, I would say: Hogwash.

It is possible to track the money. If Visa and MasterCard can track where billions of consumers shop every day, the federal government can track where the handful of banks spent billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that if the TARP had a mechanism to track where the money has gone in real time, the taxpayers would feel better about where their money has gone.

A bipartisan coalition is developing in both the House and the Senate to bring greater transparency to the TARP. In fact, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), on the House side, and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) have introduced legislation to do exactly that important task. Have the Treasury Department spend the necessary money to put into place tracking procedures so that in real time, the people have access to where their money is going.

The coalition is growing, and several think tanks on all sides of the philosophical divide have weighed in. It seems like an easy sell. Tell the taxpayer where his/her money is going. It won’t make TARP more popular, but it will make it more defensible.

Advocates for TARP transparency have a website, I recommend it for anybody who wants to find out where his or her money has gone.


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