Spell out bailout's end

Guest editorials do not necessarily reflect Herald-Leader views.

Businesses and markets abhor uncertainty. But the federal government's bailout sweepstakes has been anything but certain.

Even after months of cash infusions into banks and car companies, it's unclear if the government has an end game.

Just when will AIG become a private company again? Do federal loans to automakers mean that the government can run the companies? What are the limits on government influence over a company that takes bailout cash?

It is no surprise that some banks that took federal money now want to give it back, claiming that the rules have changed. Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., has said banks should be able to return the money and that the government needs an exit strategy. We agree.

The Obama administration should begin to fill in the blanks so that businesses and taxpayers know how this is supposed to turn out. Government intervention, when necessary, should be as brief as possible and its limits well-defined.

We supported efforts to prop up the banking system, because the alternative was chaos in the credit markets. We didn't support bailouts for GM and Chrysler, but we share the concern over their dire condition and think the thousands of people who work for them and their suppliers may need support.

But as the administration's plans for banks and automakers have become clearer, federal officials still haven't adequately spelled out how government will extricate itself from private enterprise.

It should do so while crafting tougher regulation to ensure that financial shenanigans are limited in the future.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel