Tired of TARP? It doesn't sound like it's going away just yet. Treasury Secretary Timothy gave Congress a strong signal Wednesday that the government's $700 billion bailout fund will survive beyond its initial expiration date at the end of this year.
Moving too soon to end the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the centerpiece of last year's efforts to rescue financial companies threatened by frozen credit markets, would threaten the economy just as it's showing signs of life again, Geithner said in testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee.
"If you look at the U.S. financial system today, there are parts that are still very damaged," Geithner said, according to Reuters. "We have to be very careful to make sure we are not prematurely taking steps that would intensify those financial headwinds," he said.
The fund still boasts about $210 billion, and Geithner said that much of that money would probably be returned unspent. But while the time for a refund may be near, he suggested, it's not here yet.
"We are actually close to the point where I think we can wind down this program and stop making new commitments and put it out of existence," he said.
Though many of the TARP's most expensive moves came last year -- including bailouts of some of the biggest Wall Street banks, the giant insurer American International Group (AIG) and others -- a handful of community and regional banks are still tapping the program for the first time as they work to mend their bruised balance sheets.
Allowing the rescue fund to expire as scheduled at the end of this year could make it harder for those lenders to access the capital they need to stay afloat.
The end of TARP could also put Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general in charge of overseeing the fund's administration, out of a job. That, in turn, could put an end to some of the hardest-hitting investigations of exactly what went wrong during the financial crisis.
See, for example, Barofsky's report on how banks that did business with AIG were protected from losses with taxpayer money. The New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson, one of the best financial journalists around, called it "must reading for any taxpayer hoping to understand why the $182 billion 'rescue' of what was once the world's largest insurer still ranks as the most troubling episode of the financial disaster."
After Geithner's comments, it seems TARP hasn't yet run out of time.
Geithner: It's too soon to end TARP