Fannie, Freddie Mess Belongs at Dems' Doorstep

Mark Hillman
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Posted: Oct 27, 2008 4:55 PM
Fannie, Freddie Mess Belongs at Dems' Doorstep

Cut through the doubletalk that obscures the financial mess in Washington and on Wall Street, and these points are obvious to everyone paying attention:

* Congress used the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to force banks to make risky loans to "help" people buy houses they could not afford.

* As early as 2001, President Bush and Republicans warned that Freddie and Fannie's financial house was unstable and could wreak havoc on the economy.

* Fannie and Freddie spent more than $200 million lobbying Congress to ignore the problem.

* Subservient Democrats, like Barney Frank, dutifully declared that Freddie and Fannie were safe and sound and blocked reform.

No one can dispute that Freddie and Fannie were certainly unsound. So, who pays for Congress' failure to reform? Taxpayers, of course: up to $4 trillion in lost savings and investments plus more than $1 trillion in new government debt.

Now Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want us to believe that the financial fiasco is the fault of deregulation.

Poppycock.

In 1999, before George W. Bush took office, the New York Times' Steven Holmes reported that the Clinton administration was pressuring Fannie Mae to expand mortgage loans to "people with less-than-stellar credit ratings."

Through CRA, banks were strong-armed to make risky loans and threatened with fines of up to $500,000 per violation if they didn't reach government quotas. Banks were encouraged to hire "community groups," like ACORN, to find "qualified" borrowers.

Not surprisingly, when banks were offered the chance to dump those risky loans on Fannie and Freddie, they jumped at the chance.

Holmes reported, in 1999: "Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times (but) . . . may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s."

In 2001, the Bush administration warned of "strong repercussions in the financial markets" if Fannie and Freddie encountered financial trouble. Treasury Secretary John Snow repeatedly warned that federal regulators didn't have enough authority to properly supervise Fannie and Freddie. As recently as August 2007, President Bush urged Congress "to get them reformed, get them streamlined, get them focused."

Democrats ignored those warnings:

Rep. Barney Frank said he did not want to "focus on safety and soundness . . . . I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation toward subsidized housing."

Rep. Maxine Waters claimed, "We do not have a crisis . . . Everything (in CRA) has worked just fine."

And Sen. Christopher Dodd, No. 1 recipient of Fannie and Freddie campaign cash, called them "great success stories."

Fannie and Freddie spent more than $200 million and employed over 140 lobbyists to avoid just the kind of scrutiny that Republicans urged. They throw around millions in campaign contributions, targeting key members of Senate and House finance and banking committees.

Ironically, Barack Obama doesn't sit on those committees, yet he ranks as the No. 2 recipient of Freddie and Fannie campaign cash after just four years in the Senate.

Last week, Associated Press reported that three years ago Freddie Mac even paid a consulting firm peel off enough GOP votes to kill a reform bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel.

"What we're dealing with is an astounding failure of management" that was "driven clearly by self interest and greed," Hagel said.

With unanimous Republican support, Hagel's reform bill sailed through committee, but Freddie's lobbying fusillade found enough weak-kneed Republicans to help its loyal Democrats derail the bill.

Three years later, we cannot know if reforms proposed by Bush, Snow and Hagel would have averted the current crisis, but we certainly know that Fannie and Freddie's Democrat defenders were dead wrong.

Given Democrats' complicity in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, it is utterly astounding that confused voters could actually reward them on Election Day.