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How Much Bailout Money Do We Still Have?

Today's Wall Street Journal has an item that tries to answer a question I've struggled with while working on certain pieces lately: How much of the original $700 billion bank bailout (i.e., TARP) do we have left in the fridge? According to the Journal:

Based on Dow Jones Newswires' reporting and calculations, it appears that Treasury has, at most, $52.6 billion left in its rescue fund. That would mean about 92% is already committed. That assumes the Treasury spends $100 billion in TARP funds to rid bank balance sheets of toxic assets.

Obviously, this is a big deal since the point of those stress tests is to determine whether banks need more capital. And if we have at most $50 billion left, then we may not have enough to make good on that part of the bank plan. Or, maybe more precisely, this constrains the size of the hole we're willing to acknowledge, since it's hard to believe Treasury would say the banks need $100 billion if it only has $50 billion lying around. (Maybe I'm wrong about that--maybe Treasury would use that as an impetus to squeeze more money out of Congress, but that doesn't seem like a strategy with a high likelihood of success given the current mood.)

As for my own efforts, I could never really figure it out and just had to keep it vague in my pieces. It turns out there's a good reason for that:

The Treasury has yet to provide an official accounting.

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner twice was asked to specify how much remains in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The question arose amid the series of new programs the Obama administration has announced in the past several weeks to boost ailing financial markets. In both instances, the secretary avoided a direct answer.

--Noam Scheiber