AS we inch closer to a clearer understanding of the products and practices that unleashed the credit crisis of 2008, it’s becoming apparent that those seeking the whole truth are still outnumbered by those aiming to obscure it. This is the case not only on Wall Street but also in Washington.
Truth seekers the nation over, therefore, are indebted to Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who in recent days uncovered what he called a government-enabled “TARP money shuffle.” It relates to General Motors, which on April 21 paid the balance of its $6.7 billion loan under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
G.M. trumpeted its escape from the program as evidence that it had turned the corner in its operations. “G.M. is able to repay the taxpayers in full, with interest, ahead of schedule, because more customers are buying vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse,” boasted Edward E. Whitacre Jr., its chief executive.
G.M. also crowed about its loan repayment in a national television ad and the United States Treasury also marked the moment with a press release: “We are encouraged that G.M. has repaid its debt well ahead of schedule and confident that the company is on a strong path to viability,” said Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary.
Taxpayers are naturally eager for news about bailout repayments. But what neither G.M. nor the Treasury disclosed was that the company simply used other funds held by the Treasury to pay off its original loan.
Neil M. Barofsky, the inspector general overseeing the troubled asset program, revealed this detail when he spoke before the Senate Finance Committee on April 20.
“So it’s good news in that they’re reducing their debt,” Mr. Barofsky said of G.M. But he went on to note that G.M. was using other taxpayer money to make the loan repayment, according to the transcript of his testimony.
Armed with this information, Mr. Grassley fired off a letter to Mr. Geithner on April 22, asking for details of the transaction. “I am concerned ... that this announcement is not what it seems,” he wrote. “In fact, it appears to be nothing more than an elaborate TARP money shuffle.” (Continues here at NYT)