Back in February, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner seemed to regard it as inevitable that the $700 billion TARP would run out and he’d be forced to ask for more money from Congress. The banks' difficulties would be "an expensive problem for the nation," he said. A few weeks later, the Obama administration released its budget, which included an estimate that $750 billion more in bailout money would be needed. Now the administration is singing a different song.
Regulators are reportedly set to require some major banks to raise more capital as a result of the much-hyped stress tests. But that money won't necessarily come from the government. As White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs put it yesterday, the administration and the banks "believe that the first and best place to get that is through the private sector." Under the tests, a bank will have six months to raise the money privately; otherwise, the aid will come from the government. Pressed on whether the administration will have to go back to Congress for more bailout money, Gibbs said it didn't need to "right now."
As you can see in our database, a little less than $120 billion of the TARP money remains uncommitted. That's accounting for the loans recently promised to see Chrysler through its bankruptcy proceedings and the bailout money returned by 11 banks. Treasury Department officials have said that they intend to use money as it is returned by banks. A recent report by the TARP's inspector general said that while returned principal payments can be reused, revenues from those investments (dividends, interest payments and profits from selling warrants) "must be used to pay down the debt and cannot be reused." Treasury officials have estimated that the banks will collectively repay about $25 billion over the course of this year; so far, about $1 billion has been returned.
Back in February, Geithner laid out his Financial Stability Plan, which, as we noted then, offered scant detail. Since then, he has laid out each of the major initiatives and given each a price tag – with the exception of the stress tests, which were always a big question mark. Now it's not clear if any bailout money will be used in response to the tests. So beyond GM, which, like Chrysler, could get additional loans to guide it through a restructuring (either in or out of bankruptcy), it's not clear where the remaining $120 billion might go.