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Bush, McCain Tried To Reform Freddie Mac

First, from a disapproving New York Times:

New Agency Proposed to Oversee Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae

By STEPHEN LABATON

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 new agency would have the authority, which now rests with Congress, to set one of the two capital-reserve requirements for the companies. It would exercise authority over any new lines of business. And it would determine whether the two are adequately managing the risks of their ballooning portfolios.

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.

Mr. Snow said that Congress should eliminate the power of the president to appoint directors to the companies, a sign that the administration is less concerned about the perks of patronage than it is about the potential political problems associated with any new difficulties arising at the companies.

The administration’s proposal, which was endorsed in large part today by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would not repeal the significant government subsidies granted to the two companies. And it does not alter the implicit guarantee that Washington will bail the companies out if they run into financial difficulty; that perception enables them to issue debt at significantly lower rates than their competitors. Nor would it remove the companies’ exemptions from taxes and antifraud provisions of federal securities laws.

The proposal is the opening act in one of the biggest and most significant lobbying battles of the Congressional session.

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.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was created by Congress in 1992 after the bailout of the savings and loan industry and concerns about regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy mortgages from lenders and repackage them as securities or hold them in their own portfolios.

At the time, the companies and their allies beat back efforts for tougher oversight by the Treasury Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the Federal Reserve. Supporters of the companies said efforts to regulate the lenders tightly under those agencies might diminish their ability to finance loans for lower-income families. This year, however, the chances of passing legislation to tighten the oversight are better than in the past.

Reflecting the changing political climate, both Fannie Mae and its leading rivals applauded the administration’s package. The support from Fannie Mae came after a round of discussions between it and the administration and assurances from the Treasury that it would not seek to change the company’s mission.

After those assurances, Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae’s chief executive, endorsed the shift of regulatory oversight to the Treasury Department, as well as other elements of the plan.

”We welcome the administration’s approach outlined today,” Mr. Raines said. The company opposes some smaller elements of the package, like one that eliminates the authority of the president to appoint 5 of the company’s 18 board members.

Company executives said that the company preferred having the president select some directors. The company is also likely to lobby against the efforts that give regulators too much authority to approve its products.

Freddie Mac, whose accounting is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a United States attorney in Virginia, issued a statement calling the administration plan a ”responsible proposal.”

The stocks of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae fell while the prices of their bonds generally rose. Shares of Freddie Mac fell $2.04, or 3.7 percent, to $53.40, while Fannie Mae was down $1.62, or 2.4 percent, to $66.74. The price of a Fannie Mae bond due in March 2013 rose to 97.337 from 96.525.Its yield fell to 4.726 percent from 4.835 percent on Tuesday.

Fannie Mae, which was previously known as the Federal National Mortgage Association, and Freddie Mac, which was the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, have been criticized by rivals for exerting too much influence over their regulators.

”The regulator has not only been outmanned, it has been outlobbied,” said Representative Richard H. Baker, the Louisiana Republican who has proposed legislation similar to the administration proposal and who leads a subcommittee that oversees the companies. ”Being underfunded does not explain how a glowing report of Freddie’s operations was released only hours before the managerial upheaval that followed. This is not world-class regulatory work.”

Significant details must still be worked out before Congress can approve a bill. Among the groups denouncing the proposal today were the National Association of Home Builders and Congressional Democrats who fear that tighter regulation of the companies could sharply reduce their commitment to financing low-income and affordable housing.

”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.

And three years later, from the Congressional Record:

FEDERAL HOUSING ENTERPRISE REGULATORY REFORM ACT OF 2005

The United States Senate

May 25, 2006

Sen. John McCain [R-AZ]: Mr. President, this week Fannie Mae’s regulator reported that the company’s quarterly reports of profit growth over the past few years were “illusions deliberately and systematically created” by the company’s senior management, which resulted in a $10.6 billion accounting scandal.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight’s report goes on to say that Fannie Mae employees deliberately and intentionally manipulated financial reports to hit earnings targets in order to trigger bonuses for senior executives. In the case of Franklin Raines, Fannie Mae’s former chief executive officer, OFHEO’s report shows that over half of Mr. Raines’ compensation for the 6 years through 2003 was directly tied to meeting earnings targets. The report of financial misconduct at Fannie Mae echoes the deeply troubling $5 billion profit restatement at Freddie Mac.

The OFHEO report also states that Fannie Mae used its political power to lobby Congress in an effort to interfere with the regulator’s examination of the company’s accounting problems. This report comes some weeks after Freddie Mac paid a record $3.8 million fine in a settlement with the Federal Election Commission and restated lobbying disclosure reports from 2004 to 2005. These are entities that have demonstrated over and over again that they are deeply in need of reform.

For years I have been concerned about the regulatory structure that governs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac–known as Government-sponsored entities or GSEs–and the sheer magnitude of these companies and the role they play in the housing market. OFHEO’s report this week does nothing to ease these concerns. In fact, the report does quite the contrary. OFHEO’s report solidifies my view that the GSEs need to be reformed without delay.

I join as a cosponsor of the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005, S. 190, to underscore my support for quick passage of GSE regulatory reform legislation. If Congress does not act, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system, and the economy as a whole.

I urge my colleagues to support swift action on this GSE reform legislation.

Alas, thanks to the Democrat Party and the special interests of the left, both of these attempts to reform the banking system were still born.

But isn’t it funny how our watchdog media have missed these two stories?

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

8 Responses to “Bush, McCain Tried To Reform Freddie Mac”

  1. Efishant

    The main thing that seemed relevant was the argument that the Community Reinvestment Act, originally designed to address redlining, required unwise lending. This appears to be the legislation you refer to as amended in about 2001.

    Here is a debunking of that criticism. (I think the most telling statement,from House hearings on the subject, was that only about 1 in 4 of the sub-prime loans were made by institutions covered by this legislation. Also very telling is the professor who says that as far as Fannie and Freddie were concerned, the Bush administration allowed them to satisfy their affordable housing goals, not technically part of the CRA, with sub-prime mortgage backed securities.)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/… :

    “However, others dispute the involvement of the CRA in the crisis. In a Bank for International Settlements (“BIS”) working paper, economist Luci Ellis concluded that “there is no evidence that the Community Reinvestment Act was responsible for encouraging the subprime lending boom and subsequent housing bust.”[55] Ellen Seidman, former director of the US Office of Thrift Supervision during the Clinton administration, who works at the New America Foundation,[56] has stated that the CRA did not have an effect on the United States housing bubble.[57][58][unreliable source?]

    Some commentators note that CRA regulated loans tended to be safe and profitable, and that subprime excesses came mainly from institutions not regulated by the CRA. In the February 2008 House hearing, law professor Michael S. Barr, a Treasury Department official under President Clinton,[59][31] stated that a Federal Reserve survey showed that affected institutions considered CRA loans profitable and not overly risky. He noted that approximately 50% of the subprime loans were made by independent mortgage companies that were not regulated by the CRA. Another 25% to 30% came from only partially CRA regulated bank subsidiaries and affiliates. He stated that institutions fully regulated by CRA made “perhaps” one in four sub-prime loans.

    Referring to CRA and abuses in the subprime market, Michael Barr stated that in his judgment “the worst and most widespread abuses occurred in the institutions with the least federal oversight”. [60] According to Janet L. Yellen, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, independent mortgage companies made “high-priced loans” at more than twice the rate of the banks and thrifts; most CRA loans were responsibly made, and were not the higher-priced loans that have contributed to the current crisis.[61] A 2008 study by Traiger & Hinckley LLP, a law firm that counsels financial institutions on CRA compliance, found that CRA regulated institutions were less likely to make subprime loans, and when they did the interest rates were lower. CRA banks were also half as likely to resell the loans.[62] Assistant Professor of Law Alan M. White[63] notes that some abuses blamed on CRA actually occurred under the George W. Bush administration, because the Housing and Urban Development and Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fulfill their affordable housing goals – which are not technically part of the CRA – by buying subprime mortgage-backed securities.[64]”
    -For 6 of the last 8 years we have had a Republican White House and Congress, and in the last 2 years we have had a divided government. If the Republicans had wanted to change things, they have had the chance.

    -It looks to me like the failure to regulate credit swaps had a great deal to do with the meltdown. For this we can thank McCain’s advisor, Phil Gramm. (He stepped down as co-chair of McCain’s campaign in May, after he was quoted as saying that we were a nation of whiners, and that the country was simply suffering from a mental recession, not any real problems). He has been talked about as possible head of Treasury under McCain. Here is an article about it all:
    http://www.motherjones.com/
    The article explains that Gramm’s legislation (slipped at the last minute into the budget package in 2000 – so yes, signed by Clinton, who was dealing with a Republican controlled Congress) ensured that credit swaps would be completely unregulated; this gave banks and hedge funds the false confidence that they would not need the assets to cover their subprime bets.

    (By the way, the Gramm’s bill also exempted energy
    trading from regulation, leading to the Enron debacle).

    -Gramm also was instrumental in 1999 in deregulating banks, removing Depression era protections that had once separated banks, insurance companies, investment houses, etc.

    -Here is an AP article I found that talks about the huge role in this mess of the Fed and Bush’s policy of keeping interest rates artificially low. http://www.azstarnet.com/

    The most important decision may have been the Federal Reserve’s move to keep interest rates near all-time lows for three years, which acted as a clearance sale for borrowers.”
    -On the economy, economists overwhelmingly have much more confidence in Obama than they have in McCain. This is an article from the Economist Magazine: http://www.economist.com/
    It reports on a survey of economists, who largely support Obama’s policies (including 46% percent of the Republican economists, who said Obama has a better grasp of the matter, vs. 23% who said McCain did.) Twice as many economists think McCain’s plan would be bad or very bad for long-run growth as Obama’s. They also overwhelming think Obama has picked a better team of economic advisors.




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