WASHINGTON — Even as voters rage and candidates put up ads against government bailouts, the reviled mother of them all — the $700 billion lifeline to banks, insurance and auto companies — will expire after Sunday at a fraction of that cost, and could conceivably earn taxpayers a profit.
A final accounting of the government’s full range of interventions in the economy, including the bailouts of the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is years off and will most likely remain controversial and potentially costly.
But the once-unthinkable possibility that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program could end up costing far less, or even nothing, became more likely on Thursday with the news that the government had negotiated a plan with the American International Group to begin repaying taxpayers.
The rescue of the troubled insurer included $70 billion from the bailout program that was enacted two years ago, at the height of the global financial crisis late in the Bush administration, initially to prop up big banks.
At the White House on Thursday, the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, briefed President Obama about A.I.G. and about the broader outlook for the expiring rescue program, putting the projected losses at less than $50 billion, at most. Yet neither the White House nor Congressional Democrats are likely to boast much in the month remaining before midterm elections. For most voters, TARP remains a four-letter word.