Annie Lowrey offers a final assessment:
On the one hand, TARP did stabilize financial institutions, helping—along with the Federal Reserve's emergency-lending programs, the stimulus bill, and other Treasury programs—to avoid economic catastrophe. Moreover, it did so at no cost.
When TARP first arrived on the scene, the Congressional Budget Office anticipated its price tag at $300 billion. This week, TARP's bank programs actually moved into the black. When all is said and done, taxpayers stand to make about $20 billion. But that hardly means everyone likes it. There is the failure to stem the foreclosure crisis. There is the worry that by aiding failing institutions, Treasury reduced moral hazard and left too-big-to-fail companies standing. There is the concern that the government ended up bolstering the companies responsible for the crisis, rather than people caught in it.
Point taken. But two years ago, I sure didn't expect the government to make a profit from TARP. And I sure didn't expect the auto bailouts to become such huge successes.
What's surprising to me is how pallid is the Obama administration's spin has been on this. I never hear them bragging about how they managed to pull us out of the economic nose-dive we were facing. I know why: the recession isn't over, even if TARP was a success, no one wants to hear about it, etc. But it's one of the strongest and least valued part of Obama's record – along with the cost control innovations in health insurance reform.
At some point, you have to stand up and defend your record. No doubt Obama is biding his time on this. But count me as surprised as I am impressed.