September 24, 2008

Bush Tried, Reforms Died

From a New York Times article, September 11, 2003:

The Bush administration today recommended the most significant regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan crisis a decade ago.

Under the plan, disclosed at a Congressional hearing today, a new agency would be created within the Treasury Department to assume supervision of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored companies that are the two largest players in the mortgage lending industry.

---

The plan is an acknowledgment by the administration that oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- which together have issued more than $1.5 trillion in outstanding debt -- is broken. A report by outside investigators in July concluded that Freddie Mac manipulated its accounting to mislead investors, and critics have said Fannie Mae does not adequately hedge against rising interest rates.

''There is a general recognition that the supervisory system for housing-related government-sponsored enterprises neither has the tools, nor the stature, to deal effectively with the current size, complexity and importance of these enterprises,'' Treasury Secretary John W. Snow told the House Financial Services Committee in an appearance with Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, who also backed the plan.

---

After the hearing, Representative Michael G. Oxley, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, and Senator Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, announced their intention to draft legislation based on the administration's proposal. Industry executives said Congress could complete action on legislation before leaving for recess in the fall.

''The current regulator does not have the tools, or the mandate, to adequately regulate these enterprises,'' Mr. Oxley said at the hearing. ''We have seen in recent months that mismanagement and questionable accounting practices went largely unnoticed by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight,'' the independent agency that now regulates the companies.

''These irregularities, which have been going on for several years, should have been detected earlier by the regulator,'' he added.

---

''These two entities -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- are not facing any kind of financial crisis,'' said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ''The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.''

Representative Melvin L. Watt, Democrat of North Carolina, agreed.

''I don't see much other than a shell game going on here, moving something from one agency to another and in the process weakening the bargaining power of poorer families and their ability to get affordable housing,'' Mr. Watt said.

(via The Wizard, fkap)

UPDATE 9/24: Kevin Hassett on the 2005 reform bill (co-sponsored by McCain) which could have averted the crisis has it not been killed by Democratic party opposition.

Mark Krikorian: "credit is not a civil right"

UPDATE 9/25: Via Ace, here's video of Barney Frank making the above-quoted remarks about the needless "exaggeration" of the problems with Fannie Mae...and more

Posted by dan at September 24, 2008 8:39 AM