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Bruce Krasting: Bernanke Plays Politics, Loses

The BABs story has gone political. And now the Fed is tossing information into the hopper that just does not pass the smell test. The question is; “Why is the Fed doing this?” The real story on BABs is that Republicans want to nix the program as it provides a very clear benefit to the three biggest blue states, CA, NY and Il. The opposition does not want to really show their hand as being purely political so they are attacking the extension on the merits. The strongest reason to appose the extension is that it is a federal subsidy that costs the taxpayers money and adds to the deficit. But the problem all along is that no one in D.C. really has a clue how much this is actually costing. BABs was first sold as being revenue neutral at the federal level. The talk was that the 35% interest subsidy paid by D.C. would be offset by tax dollars created when the bondholders pay federal income on their interest income. It never worked like that at all. The BABs bonds went to tax exempt holders. 401k/501c accounts, foreign banks and other tax-exempts bought the BABs bonds. In my opinion the Treasury is lucky if it gets back 15% of the 35% they are paying out as a result of the tax arbitrage that has been created. I have consistently heard that some big takers of the BABs were foreign banks. That makes perfect sense. Prior to BABs they had no ability to build up state assets as they had no tax base to offset. But with BABs that issue went away and an attractive asset class with a desirable fixed coupon and long duration was created. The NYT had this to say about foreign bank participation in BABs:

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