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Twelve days into 2009, and the bailout debate is back in full force, and oh, how we missed it! Back in November, I wrote:
The Bush administration said it would not seek the second $350 billion allotted in the bailout package ... Of course, an Obama administration might ask for the remaining funds come late January. Leaving a political debate aside, I'd say that's actually a pretty good likelihood ...
Well, neither panned out exactly like that. Eight days before inauguration, President-elect Obama has asked President Bush to request a second batch of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds from Congress.
Congress could vote on releasing the funds as early as this week. No one knows how that vote will swing -- the original vote in September floored markets when it stalled in the House of Representatives -- but there's no shortage of grumbling concerning how the first $350 billion was put to work.
Perhaps rightfully so.
The original bailout strategy was to purchase troubled assets directly from banks. That plan was quickly jettisoned after it became apparent pricing assets no one wanted was a trillion-dollar guessing game. Price assets too low, and it doesn't help banks; price 'em too high, and taxpayers are left holding the bag. Or more simply put: heads, you lose, tails you lose.
The next best idea was to shovel mountains of cash into the coffers of banks like Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) , Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) whether they wanted it or not. While safer for taxpayers, this idea was fraught with controversy since it (a) did squat to get banks lending again, and (b) provided virtually no transparency as to what the banks were doing with the money.
Were mistakes made? Definitely. Could the plan have been handled better? Absolutely. Has the entire plan been bungled? Perhaps. On the other hand, Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson were given days -- if not hours -- to concoct a plan to save one of the largest and most complex industries in the world. Anyone who expected a flawless and seamless recovery was kidding themselves. What the bailout has done, and hasn't been given enough credit for, is prevented the financial system from complete systemic collapse.
Nothing's set in stone, but all signs point toward a second batch of funds being directed at homeowners facing foreclosure, rather than directly propping up banks. Then there's also General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , Chrysler, and Ford (NYSE: F ) , which will almost certainly be sidling up to the trough for more money in the year ahead. But no one really knows -- which, again, is one of the problems with TARP.
At any rate, what do you think about today's request for the remaining $350 billion of TARP funds? Take a second to weigh in via our Fool poll below. If you care to elaborate, you can fire away in the comment section as well.