Obama’s Penalty Tax Could Hit Banks that Refused TARP Funds

President Obama’s so-called Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee is a tax in search of a target.

Today, the president declared, “We want our money back.” Yes, his
proposed tax on financial institutions with assets of $50 billion or
more would be levied on the banks that paid back the bailout money —
with interest — and on institutions that may not have even taken TARP
funds, while most likely exempting Fannie, Freddie and the car
companies that still owe billions upon billions to taxpayers.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end there. At a time when President Obama and his
administration have been cajoling banks to make more loans, this tax
would directly hit that ability, particularly if it’s levied — as the
president suggested today — on the level of debt an institution has.

This would be contractionary and put a big crimp on economic expansion.
And as a multitude of economic studies have shown, taxes on
corporations are nearly always passed on to consumers.

These taxes would likely hit bank depositors in the form of new fees and lower interest payments.

My organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, stood against
the bailouts and thought the government should have let poorly managed
firms fail.

Some of the TARP recipients, like BB&T Corp., hadn’t engaged in the
foolish mortgage and credit practices, yet were pressured by the
government to take the bailout money so the “bad banks” wouldn’t be
stigmatized by taking TARP money.

Regardless, being a recipient of a government subsidy should not allow
the government to control the firm’s profits and compensation any more
than a stadium subsidy should allow the government to cap the wages of
superstar athletes.

Finally, by taxing some businesses and not others, and casting the tax
as a penalty for past misdeeds, the Obama administration has raised
constitutional issues of whether this tax runs afoul of the equal
protection clause and is a “bill of attainder” that singles out certain
people for punishment.

A New York federal court recently ruled that Congress’ singling out of
the group ACORN for defunding because of past actions was a punishment
that could only be levied by a court, violating the bill of attainder

Under this expansive interpretation, this tax too could be considered punishment without trial and also a bill of attainder.