How the Democrats Created the Financial Crisis: Kevin Hassett

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by John_Wensink, Sep 22, 2008.

  1. Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The financial crisis of the past year has provided a number of surprising twists and turns, and from Bear Stearns Cos. to American International Group Inc., ambiguity has been a big part of the story.

    Why did Bear Stearns fail, and how does that relate to AIG? It all seems so complex.

    But really, it isn't. Enough cards on this table have been turned over that the story is now clear. The economic history books will describe this episode in simple and understandable terms: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exploded, and many bystanders were injured in the blast, some fatally.

    Fannie and Freddie did this by becoming a key enabler of the mortgage crisis. They fueled Wall Street's efforts to securitize subprime loans by becoming the primary customer of all AAA-rated subprime-mortgage pools. In addition, they held an enormous portfolio of mortgages themselves.

    In the times that Fannie and Freddie couldn't make the market, they became the market. Over the years, it added up to an enormous obligation. As of last June, Fannie alone owned or guaranteed more than $388 billion in high-risk mortgage investments. Their large presence created an environment within which even mortgage-backed securities assembled by others could find a ready home.

    The problem was that the trillions of dollars in play were only low-risk investments if real estate prices continued to rise. Once they began to fall, the entire house of cards came down with them.

    Turning Point

    Take away Fannie and Freddie, or regulate them more wisely, and it's hard to imagine how these highly liquid markets would ever have emerged. This whole mess would never have happened.

    It is easy to identify the historical turning point that marked the beginning of the end.

    Back in 2005, Fannie and Freddie were, after years of dominating Washington, on the ropes. They were enmeshed in accounting scandals that led to turnover at the top. At one telling moment in late 2004, captured in an article by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Peter Wallison, the Securities and Exchange Comiission's chief accountant told disgraced Fannie Mae chief Franklin Raines that Fannie's position on the relevant accounting issue was not even ``on the page'' of allowable interpretations.

    Then legislative momentum emerged for an attempt to create a ``world-class regulator'' that would oversee the pair more like banks, imposing strict requirements on their ability to take excessive risks. Politicians who previously had associated themselves proudly with the two accounting miscreants were less eager to be associated with them. The time was ripe.

    Greenspan's Warning

    The clear gravity of the situation pushed the legislation forward. Some might say the current mess couldn't be foreseen, yet in 2005 Alan Greenspan told Congress how urgent it was for it to act in the clearest possible terms: If Fannie and Freddie ``continue to grow, continue to have the low capital that they have, continue to engage in the dynamic hedging of their portfolios, which they need to do for interest rate risk aversion, they potentially create ever-growing potential systemic risk down the road,'' he said. ``We are placing the total financial system of the future at a substantial risk.''

    What happened next was extraordinary. For the first time in history, a serious Fannie and Freddie reform bill was passed by the Senate Banking Committee. The bill gave a regulator power to crack down, and would have required the companies to eliminate their investments in risky assets.

    Different World

    If that bill had become law, then the world today would be different. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, a blizzard of terrible mortgage paper fluttered out of the Fannie and Freddie clouds, burying many of our oldest and most venerable institutions. Without their checkbooks keeping the market liquid and buying up excess supply, the market would likely have not existed.

    But the bill didn't become law, for a simple reason: Democrats opposed it on a party-line vote in the committee, signaling that this would be a partisan issue. Republicans, tied in knots by the tight Democratic opposition, couldn't even get the Senate to vote on the matter.

    That such a reckless political stand could have been taken by the Democrats was obscene even then. Wallison wrote at the time: ``It is a classic case of socializing the risk while privatizing the profit. The Democrats and the few Republicans who oppose portfolio limitations could not possibly do so if their constituents understood what they were doing.''

    Mounds of Materials

    Now that the collapse has occurred, the roadblock built by Senate Democrats in 2005 is unforgivable. Many who opposed the bill doubtlessly did so for honorable reasons. Fannie and Freddie provided mounds of materials defending their practices. Perhaps some found their propaganda convincing.

    But we now know that many of the senators who protected Fannie and Freddie, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Christopher Dodd, have received mind-boggling levels of financial support from them over the years.

    Throughout his political career, Obama has gotten more than $125,000 in campaign contributions from employees and political action committees of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, second only to Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, who received more than $165,000.

    Clinton, the 12th-ranked recipient of Fannie and Freddie PAC and employee contributions, has received more than $75,000 from the two enterprises and their employees. The private profit found its way back to the senators who killed the fix.

    There has been a lot of talk about who is to blame for this crisis. A look back at the story of 2005 makes the answer pretty clear.

    Oh, and there is one little footnote to the story that's worth keeping in mind while Democrats point fingers between now and Nov. 4: Senator John McCain was one of the three cosponsors of S.190, the bill that would have averted this mess.

    (Kevin Hassett, director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is a Bloomberg News columnist. He is an adviser to Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona in the 2008 presidential election. The opinions expressed are his own.)
  2. "While speaking in favor of bank deregulation on the floor of the senate, John McCain said, “This legislation takes a small but important step toward eliminating the tremendous regulatory burden imposed on financial institutions… One principal reason banks are unable to make loans is the bewildering array of statutory and regulatory restrictions and paperwork requirements imposed by Congress and the regulatory agencies. While a case can certainly be made that every law and regulation is intended to serve a laudable purpose, the aggregate effect of the rapidly increasing regulatory burden imposed on banks is to cause them to devote substantial time, energy and money to compliance rather than meeting the credit needs of the community.” [Congressional Record, 11/19/93; emphasis added]
  3. Arnie


    As Fred Smith, president of the Washington, D.C-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, has noted, these financial beasts are a textbook example of “profit-side capitalism and loss-side socialism.” When things go right for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, they keep the profits. But when things go wrong, taxpayers — not just private shareholders, managers, and employees — will be on the hook.

    Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae each receive $2.25 billion lines of credit with the U.S. Treasury. These special pipelines give the institutions an implied federal guarantee available to no other private sector competitors in the mortgage market. That protection makes them immune to the costs normally associated with riskier and riskier behavior. Moreover, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not required to pay state and local income taxes. In addition, the standard for how much money the government requires them to keep on hand in case homebuyers default on their mortgages is lower for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae than for fully private banks and thrifts. The two corporations receive an estimated $10 billion a year in hidden taxpayer subsidies.

    Political appointees to the companies’ boards pocket millions in stock options to bolster support on Capitol Hill. Clinton-appointed board members at Fannie Mae include Marc Rich lawyer Jack Quinn and Janet Reno’s lieutenant at the Justice Department, Jamie Gorelick. At the helm of Fannie Mae is another Clinton appointee, Franklin Raines, who was paid more than $4 million and had almost $6 million in unexercised stock options in his first year at the helm. Cheerleaders in both major political parties have opposed privatizing Fannie and Freddie.

    If Martha Stewart is the face of capitalist excess, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the poster children for government-sponsored gluttony. The potential fall of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae could rival the savings and loan collapse of the 1980s. Too bad the Martha bashers, blind to the far greater catastrophes of market socialism, won’t pay attention until it’s too late.
  4. I hate being lied to and misled.

    This guy says

    "Throughout his political career, Obama has gotten more than $125,000 in campaign contributions from employees and political action committees of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, second only to Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, who received more than $165,000. "

    Note the employees referred to above are regular employees. They do not include the senior officers and lobbyists because such officials have a tendency to sit on more than one company's board or lobby for more than one company.

    If you look at the officers and lobbyists this is what you see:


    If this is indicative of McCain's forthrightness while in office then it does not look like he's very trustworthy at all.
  5. Arnie


    You don't need to go back 15 years. Here's one a little more current..........

    John McCain: 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.

    Quick Info
    S. 190 [109th]: Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005
    Last Action: Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Ordered to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute favorably.
    Status: Dead (on party line vote in committee-Dems had majority)
  6. Arnie


  7. That one from is the list I think the writer is referring to too. If you read the comments section you will see the compiler admits it does not include the top brass but only the ordinary workers at Fannie and Freddie and their PACs. Any one referring to that list is being misled and deceived if they thing it includes officers, directors, or lobbyists of the company.

    "For a number of reasons, CRP's methodology re: contributions associated with corporations does not include money from the board of directors or lobbyists. We code only employees of the companies receiving a paycheck. Members of the board of directors could be on the boards of multiple companies, so instead of adding their contributions to all of the companies on which boards they sit, their contributions are lumped in with their actual employer's contributions. As for lobbyists who are "hired guns," their contributions would fall under the name of the lobbying firm for which they work, since, similar to directors, lobbyists usually represent multiple clients. In-house lobbyists for a company would be included in the company's totals, however, since the company is their sole employer."

    How convenient. When I read or hear something from candidates, their campaigns, or their supporters I want to be able to trust them enough so I don't need to read the fine print.
  8. In 2005 the Dems had a majority?
  9. For those who are actually interested in reading the bill that McCain cosponsored, and that died in a Republican committee you can read the bill here by clicking on "primary source" then "text of legislation."

    It gets rid of the Federal Housing Finance Board (which oversees FMNA) and also got rid of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight and attempted to replace it with a whole new government department.

    It also excludes FMNA and Freddie Mac from certain securities reporting requirements, and also allows them to bill their bonds and debt as government debt.
  10. As usual biddave is spewing the obama talking points of the day. Oh no, McCain was in favor of some sort of bank deregulation 15 years ago, so he must be a dirtbag. Don't bother to ask what it was or if it made any sense. Obama's "new" politics is beginning to resemble the old democrat demagoguery more every day.

    At least Obama will have advisors who know a lot about the problems, since they created them. How he can retain Franklin Raines, kicked out of FNM in disgrace, and Jim Johnston, another FNM hack, and criticize McCain is beyond me, but I guess having the media cheerleading for you helps.
    #10     Sep 22, 2008