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Tesla Is Just a Winning Stimulus as Fourth U.S. Automaker Emerges

The question is whether the DOE left big money on the table in its loan to Tesla as some lawmakers try to continue to politicize the government's efforts to grow an electric car market.

The DOE, after all, may lose as much as $217 million on loans to Fisker and Vehicle Production Group. Some political ideologues are likely to try and emphasize those companies' struggles over the success of Tesla in criticizing the electric car and Obama's stimulus efforts.

The government also has been criticized for the backstop of the nation's largest banks and its direct bailout investment in Fannie Mae (FNMA), Freddie Mac (FMCC ), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C ) and AIG (AIG), in addition to a remaining stake in General Motors (GM).

On bank bailouts, Treasury has reported significant profits and it recently booked about $60 billion in revenue from Fannie and Freddie earnings. It remains unclear whether taxpayers will net a direct profit from the government's involvement in the rescue of General Motors.

For now, Musk will breathe a sigh of relief that the company has been extricated with ideological debates that consume Washington. The company's stock and convertible debt offering, in concert with an expiration of low-priced DOE warrants also looks like a particularly shareholder friendly deal.

Over the long-term, however, Tesla's increasingly likely success raises the question of whether government venture financing, particularly at times when capital is in short order, should contain a profit motive.

Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) surely would never have cut such a feckless warrant contract. At Berkshire's May 4 shareholder meeting, Buffett said the company will be a source of emergency capital in financial panics, as it was during the crisis.

Still, the 'Oracle of Omaha' only recently invested in the resurgent auto industry through a stake in GM shares. Berkshire subsidiary MidAmerican Energy also recently made a flurry of big investments in government financed solar and wind energy developments.

In response to a politically charged question at Berkshire's shareholder meeting, Buffett vigorously defended the government's stimulus efforts.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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