Tags: Senate | mortgage | housing | finance

Bizarre Senate Banking Committee Markup on Housing Finance Resumes — Part I

By    |   Monday, 19 May 2014 07:47 AM

As I wrote about earlier this month, the senior senators on the Senate Banking Committee who had convened, then adjourned, a markup on April 29 of S. 1217, the "Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act," planned to look for more votes and reconvene the meeting.

By May 15, committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, had evidently found a vote, and they decided to report the bill out of the committee, perhaps to be considered on the floor at some indeterminate time.

The vote was 13-9, and the bill's chances may be dimmed, if not doomed, by the fact that a higher percentage of its support came from the 10 Republicans (70 percent) than from its 12 Democrats (50 percent). The Democratic opponents tended to come from the party's so-called "progressive" wing, but also included the pragmatic liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is a member of the Senate leadership.

S. 1217 would established a complex new system that theoretically would replace the broken government-backed system dominated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a "new" system that is supposed to attract private capital because it would be backed by an explicit government guarantee rather than the implicit one that led to a bailout costing at least $189 billion.

The objections of the Democratic opponents expressed a theme that the bill does not do enough to secure the prospect of home ownership for low-income, minority and first-time homebuyers. On the Republican side, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the toughest votes for big-time spending legislation, voted for it, but Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., made a long, impassioned speech against the bill that will be discussed in detail in the next article.

In their opening remarks, Johnson admitted that the bill was complex and controversial, and Crapo credited the work of the "stakeholders" in achieving the agreement. All of the supporters credited Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., for introducing the initial version. The same two senators were also instrumental in complex features of Dodd-Frank, particularly the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) in title II. This writer has sometimes referred to the housing finance bill as "Corkercare" in recognition of the enthusiasm the senator brings to his handiwork. Crapo's reference to "stakeholders" is a bit inflammatory to opponents because it implies to them that this is special-interest legislation, which is exactly what they already suspect.

One of the Republican opponents, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., insisted on offering an amendment and getting a recorded vote, even though he must have known it would be defeated. Toomey proposed to deny the federal guarantee to mortgages for which the power of eminent domain has been used to abrogate mortgage terms, as Richmond, Calif., is seeking to do. Toomey's amendment was defeated by a recorded vote of 14-8, with the rhetorical burden of opposition carried by two of Toomey's Republican colleagues, Corker and Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Nebr.

The key supporters of the bill hold out hope that they will be able to recruit more support, and the Democratic opponents expressed a willingness to listen. However, the risk for the proponents is that picking up the support of some senators will cost them the support of others. Some cynical observers, and probably some senators, suspect that the plan is to let this bill die and allow Fannie and Freddie to remain in place much as before, with the benefit of an explicit guarantee and a friendlier regulator, former Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Robert-Feinberg
As I wrote about earlier this month, the senior senators on the Senate Banking Committee who had convened, then adjourned, a markup on April 29 of S. 1217, the "Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act," planned to look for more votes and reconvene the meeting.
Senate, mortgage, housing, finance
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2014-47-19
Monday, 19 May 2014 07:47 AM
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