Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- President Obama will receive a huge deficit-reducing windfall in a few years when the U.S. Treasury recoups about $500 billion from its investment stake in the $700 billon economic bailout.

Who says so? None other than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which reported earlier this month that the fiscal 2009 budget deficit will top $1.2 trillion, not including the nearly $1 trillion that the Obama administration intends to spend on its own economic-recovery package.

CBO's staggering deficit projection made headlines, but its report also contained an equally newsworthy finding virtually ignored by the Washington news media because it would have undercut the lead they were peddling: a flat $700 billion giveaway by the Bush White House to Wall Street tycoons.

In fact, the Bush administration's expenditures in the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), most of which went into huge loans to financially troubled banks, will end up costing taxpayers a fraction of its legislated price tag.

Instead of the full $700 billion when the money is disbursed, CBO's estimate of the "subsidy costs" related to TARP loans and other transactions will cost around $180 billion. Granted, this isn't chopped liver, but it's a far cry from nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars that has been advertised in all of the financial-bailout stories.

What the news media rarely mention is that the Treasury demanded and got preferred stock, interest and other earnings for the billions it is shelling out to banks and other businesses.

When CBO totaled all of the government's outlays for this fiscal year in its latest budget review, it included $180 billion that it said was the true net cost of the money spent under TARP. "Broadly speaking, that cost is the purchase price minus the present values, adjusted for market risk, of any estimated future earnings from holding purchased assets and the proceeds from the eventual sale of them," CBO said.

How this works: The Treasury effectively bought assets from these banks. CBO projects that these assets after a period of time will be sold and then computes how much this will likely return to the Treasury based on very conservative estimates of their increased value and earnings.

Its estimates were based on all of the $700 billion that it expects will be spent through 2009, even though the Bush administration had only spent about half of that sum, and was headed into the second half with the incoming Obama administration's approval.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.