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EDITORIAL: TARP bailout averted economic collapse

What would you call a $700-billion bipartisan program that ultimately rescues the financial system at a fraction of that sum? Fantasy? Pipe dream? Something that happened in Sweden?

Not to worry - there's already a name for this effort. It's called the Troubled Asset Recovery Program, and it's shaping up to be one of the most effective federal initiatives in years.

Few subjects stir voter outrage as reliably as TARP, which bailed out banks and big business in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. Yet the program staved off a collapse of the banking system and saved an estimated 8.5 million jobs. It also saved General Motors and Chrysler for good measure.

And it accomplished all this while costing taxpayers a fraction of the original sum. Although TARP is widely known for its $700-billion authorization, the Congressional Budget Office recently said it would end up costing just $66 billion. The Treasury says if all goes well, the program might even earn a profit.

Of course, while America's banks have been paying back TARP money, they've been the beneficiaries of an ongoing stealth bailout, thanks to rock-bottom interest rates, which transfer wealth from savers to banks and debtors. Bigwigs at AIG were given outlandish bonuses. And taxpayers remain saddled with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which might cost $389 billion when all is said and done.

Yet voter anger at TARP and its bipartisan perpetrators is misplaced. If the program is going to inspire name-calling, the one we'd choose is, success. hN