Has TARP cost $2 trillion or $23.7 trillion? Either way, it's outrageous

Has the U.S. spent $2 trillion or committed $23.7 trillion? Those will be the numbers tossed around at a House committee hearing today on TARP. As Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky will testify, the larger number is admittedly excessive, based on maximum government expenditure parlayed against a nonexistent return. Even so, Barofsky argues that his testimony isn't misleading.

Regardless of the ultimate cost of TARP, President Obama has declared that "the fire is now out" in an interview with PBS.

The ultimate problem is that the final costs of the TARP program are completely unclear. Everyone seems to agree that Barofsky's $23.7 trillion figure is ridiculous because he includes programs that were killed before they started or spending that is backed by valuable assets. For example, Barofsky's accounting assumes that: