The congressionally appointed panel assigned to probe the origins of the 2008 credit crisis heaped blame on “reckless” Wall Street firms and “weak” federal regulators, concluding the meltdown could have been avoided.
“The captains of finance and the public stewards of our financial system ignored warnings and failed to question, understand and manage evolving risks within a system essential to the well-being of the American public,” the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission wrote in a 545-page book outlining its conclusions. “Theirs was a big miss, not a stumble.”
A copy of the book obtained by Bloomberg News, a paperback emblazoned with a U.S. seal, faults the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve for failing to clamp down on the banks they supervised, and singles out former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan for backing “30 years of deregulation.”
The findings, scheduled to be officially released tomorrow, were endorsed only by the commission’s Democratic majority. The four Republican members issued two separate assessments that accused Democrats of writing a long, narrative account of what happened in the crisis while failing to uncover what caused it.
When it was created by Congress in 2009, the FCIC was heralded as the best chance of finding clear answers to what caused the credit crisis and holding wrongdoers accountable. Lawmakers compared it to the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, which after a series of hearings came out with unanimous recommendations that spurred new policies.
The partisan bickering and divided report makes it less likely that the group’s work will have an impact on regulatory policy, people who have followed the commission said. Last year’s passage of the biggest financial-rules overhaul since the 1930s and the return to profitability of banks that got billions of dollars in U.S. aid during the crisis further undermined the panel’s relevance.
U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has announced that he’s looking into allegations of partisanship, mismanagement and conflict of interest at the commission. The California Republican and two other lawmakers sent a letter yesterday renewing a demand for documents on the panel’s spending, its use of media consultants and its staff turnover.
FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides, a Democrat who served as California’s state treasurer, spurned a similar request from Issa last year. In yesterday’s letter, Issa said he was concerned about “continued management problems” at the commission and asked for the material by Jan. 31.
The FCIC last year requested $1.8 million in additional funds from Congress, which had given the panel an $8 million budget.
Along with Angelides, other Democratic members of the FCIC include former Commodity Futures Trading Commission chief Brooksley Born and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham of Florida. Former congressman Bill Thomas of California leads the Republican side.
The Democrats noted “dramatic failures of corporate governance and risk management” at financial companies including Fannie Mae, American International Group Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos. Poor controls led to excessive borrowing and risky investments in mortgages, the report said.
Credit, Housing Bubbles
Republicans Thomas, Keith Hennessey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin placed a 27-page dissent in the book that listed 10 causes for the crisis. Topping their list was the credit bubble, which the three commissioners said was inflated by increased investment in high risk mortgages. U.S. monetary policy “may have contributed to the credit bubble, but did not cause it,” they wrote.
The Republicans also blamed a housing bubble that began in the late part of the 20th century as well as the nontraditional mortgages pushed by firms such as Countrywide Financial Corp., Washington Mutual Inc. and Ameriquest Mortgage Securities Inc.
Peter Wallison, the fourth Republican appointee on the panel, wrote his own dissent that concluded U.S. housing policy during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations caused the crisis. The push to make more people homeowners drove down lending standards and caused the creation of 27 million risky mortgages that were ready to default when the housing bubble collapsed, he wrote.
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