TARP: What's in a Name?

ABC News' Charles Herman reports:  Newly appointed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner continues to meet with other administration officials and members of Congress to decide how to use the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue package known as the TARP in order to fix the banks and get credit flowing again. But there’s one issue about the TARP, something I have been reporting on for months, that has been driving me nuts and I hold out hope to have a definitive answer when Geithner announces the new direction for the program. What exactly is the name of the TARP?  Is it the Troubled Asset Relief Program,  as it is most widely called?  Or is it the Troubled Assets Relief Program, where “assets” is plural? Here’s the actual bill.  And I quote, “TITLE I—TROUBLED ASSETS RELIEF  PROGRAM.”  Plural. But then just a few lines down, the bill says, “The Secretary is authorized to establish the Troubled Asset Relief Program (or 'TARP') to purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, troubled assets from any financial institution.”  Singular. Before the previous administration left office, the Treasury Department told me, “At some point, we decided it was supposed to be assets plural, so that’s the best to use. But look here and here and here.  Singular. In the haste to write the bill in October, did Congress forget to get an editor to review the text? More important, why should we care?  Because this little issue actually speaks to the larger problem with the TARP.  The bill was written so fast and approved so quickly that now, four months later, we are faced with a situation in which the new administration, Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the U.S. taxpayer are deeply dissatisfied with the results of the TARP.  The Government Accountability Office even questions how effective the TARP has been in stabilizing the financial markets (GAO says singular). If, on a small scale, the very name of the program isn’t clear, is it surprising that so many now doubt how effective the program is in the broader sense?  Next week, the treasury secretary is expected to announce how the TARP will operate going forward.  With so many tough decisions to make, perhaps the easiest is deciding what the acronym stands for. I have asked the new press office at the Treasury Department for its  thoughts on this matter.  What’s yours?

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