Watch CBSN Live

Bailout Worst Case Tally: $23.7 Trillion

By CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Updated 12:15 p.m. July 21

The man in charge of the report on bailout money defended its findings Tuesday. Special inspector general Neil Barofsky, who oversees the massive Troubled Asset Relief Program, delivered a quarterly report to Congress sharply critical of Treasury's reluctance to better track how federal bailout money is being spent.

He responded to criticism from the Obama administration that the bailout could cost $23.7 under a worst case scenario. He noted that one Treasury Dept. official called the figure "ridiculous."

Barofsky noted that the numbers used for the calculations come from the Treasury Dept. He said if the numbers are inflated, then the governement itself inflated them.

In his report, Barofsky said Treasury has accepted some of his recommendations for greater accountability, but that the department has not taken steps to require all TARP recipients to report on their actual use of funds.

4 p.m. July 20

The chief watchdog over the government's massive bail-out effort has come up with a worst-case scenario price tag for taxpayers ... and it's a stunning figure by any measure.

To give you an idea of how big we're talking, the cost is measured isn't measured in millions or billions ... but trillions.

Here's the breakdown of what could ultimately spent under each agency if all goes wrong. That's according to the oversight report to be presented to Congress Tuesday by bailout Inspector General Neil Barofsky.

• $6.8 trillion from the Federal Reserve

• $2.3 trillion from the FDIC

• $7.4 trillion from Treasury

• $7.2 trillion in other government programs

That adds up to $23.7 trillion dollars.

That's more than the moon shot, the New Deal and World War II combined ... in 2008 dollars. And it's way more than the entire U.S. gross domestic product -- just over $14 trillion.

"If you spent a million dollars every day since the birth of Jesus you wouldn't have spent this much," said U.S. Rep Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is ranking member of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy.

A Treasury Department spokesman sounded exasperated by the staggering estimate from the Inspector General, calling it "ridiculous," and "inflated." Treasury says less than $2 trillion dollars has been spent so far, and that the total cost will likely never come near $23 trillion dollars.

But even a hint of such daunting possibility is especially touchy at a time when the president is pushing an expensive health care plan that the congressional budget office recently said would go way over the administration's cost estimates.