Bailouts could cost U.S. $23 trillion
By EAMON JAVERS | 7/20/09 3:19 PM
A series of bailouts, bank rescues and other economic lifelines could end up costing the federal government as much as $23 trillion, the U.S. government’s watchdog over the effort says – a staggering amount that is nearly double the nation’s entire economic output for a year.
If the feds end up spending that amount, it could be more than the federal government has spent on any single effort in American history.
For the government to be on the hook for the total amount, worst-case scenarios would have to come to pass in a variety of federal programs, which is unlikely, says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the government’s financial bailout programs, in testimony prepared for delivery to the House oversight committee Tuesday.
The Treasury Department says less than $2 trillion has been spent so far.
Still, the enormity of the IG’s projection underscores the size of the economic disaster that hit the nation over the past year and the unprecedented sums mobilized by the federal government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to confront it.
In fact, $23 trillion is more than the total cost of all the wars the United States has ever fought, put together. World War II, for example, cost $4.1 trillion in 2008 dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Even the Moon landings and the New Deal didn’t come close to $23 trillion: the Moon shot in 1969 cost an estimated $237 billion in current dollars, and the entire Depression-era Roosevelt relief program came in at $500 billion, according to Jim Bianco of Bianco Research.
The annual gross domestic product of the United States is just over $14 trillion.
Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams downplayed the total amount could ever reach Barofsky’s number.
“The $23.7 trillion estimate generally includes programs at the hypothetical maximum size envisioned when they were established,” Williams said. “It was never likely that all these programs would be ‘maxed out’ at the same time.”
Still, the eye-popping price tag provoked an immediate reaction on Capitol Hill. “The potential financial commitment the American taxpayers could be responsible for is of a size and scope that isn’t even imaginable,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee. “If you spent a million dollars a day going back to the birth of Christ, that wouldn’t even come close to just one trillion dollars – $23.7 trillion is a staggering figure.”
Congressional Democrats say they will call for Treasury to meet transparency requirements suggested by the inspector general, said a spokeswoman for the Oversight committee. “The American people need to know what’s going on with their money,” said committee spokeswoman Jenny Rosenberg.