A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Tussling Over TARP

A recent TV ad from Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter claims that Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln "says she voted against bailing out Wall Street." That’s not what Lincoln said. The two are campaigning in the Democratic primary for the Senate.

Halter’s ad refers to a Lincoln campaign ad from March in which she said she has voted against "giving more money to Wall Street."

Lincoln never denied voting in favor of the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program, as Halter’s ad strains to imply in words and images. Instead, she has tried to distance herself from that vote by emphasizing that she has more recently voted against doling out additional funds for the program. It’s a twist on the "I voted for it before I voted against it" argument.

Lincoln did vote, along with many other members of Congress, to establish TARP, a government program designed to prevent the further decline of the U.S. economy by purchasing and insuring the assets of failing banks, among other things. But in her campaign ads, she has stressed that she has since voted against "more" funding for the program. That’s not saying that she "voted against bailing out Wall Street," as the Halter ad claims.

It’s fair to say that Lincoln’s support for the bailout has been lukewarm and inconsistent. After "reluctantly" voting to create TARP in 2008, Lincoln voted in favor of a "resolution of disapproval" of the release of the second half ($350 billion) of the financial rescue money in 2009. And earlier this year, she voted for an amendment that called for ending the relief program, and directed that all of the program’s repaid funds be used to pay down the national debt. Lincoln soured on the program because she said "the program has provided little to no benefit to mainstream American businesses, consumers or homeowners."

The 2008 vote to establish TARP is getting a lot of attention in several congressional primary races outside of Arkansas, as well, as challengers see it as an opportunity to capitalize on lingering public anger over the bailout bill. Members of Congress who voted "aye" originally — no matter what they’ve done since — may very well see ads like this all the way up to election day.