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Today, four former CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac testified before the on how their companies’ actions may have “contributed to the ongoing crisis.” Blaming Fannie, Freddie, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), and low-income people is one of conservatives’ favorite talking points. In September, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) touted an article criticizing the CRA for pushing “Fannie and Freddie to aggressively lend to minority communities.”
But as the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo points out, at the beginning of today’s hearing, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said that 400,000 documents amassed by the committee showed that the right-wing claim is nothing more than a conservative myth. Later in the hearing, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) asked the four CEOs whether poor people caused the current financial crisis. All said “no”:
- Richard Syron, former Freddie CEO: “I would think that it wasn’t mostly trying to do things for poor people.”
- Daniel Mudd, former Fannie CEO: “[W]hen the market goes down, it’s the folks who are the closest to the margin who — who get hurt first and longest every time.”
- Leland Brendsel, former Freddie CEO: “I cannot recall ever being forced to make — or to purchase a mortgage loan that I didn’t feel, as a matter of policy at Freddie Mac, was a good mortgage loan, a sound mortgage loan, and an attractive mortgage loan for the homebuyer or the owner of an apartment building.”
- Franklin Raines, former Fannie CEO: “I do not believe that poor people are the cause of the current financial crisis. … Most of the losses, as I read the record, have come on mortgages that were made to middle-class and upper-middle-class people, not to poor people.”
Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977, requiring banks “to lend throughout the communities they serve.” In the 1990s, greater mortgage lending to lower-income households by CRA-coveed banks increased the homeownership rate for lower-income and minority families. As CAP scholar Tim Westrich has written, “The real culprits in the mortgage mess are non-bank mortgage companies — not covered by CRA — that originated the lion’s share of bad mortgages at the heart of the crisis. They made an estimated 50 percent of subprime loans in 2005.”
Numerous other scholars, including Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman and Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker, have also explained that while Fannie and Freddie made many bad decisions, they weren’t primarily to blame for the financial crisis. At a hearing in September, former top government economic experts agreed that conservatives were pushing myths, rather than facts.
Source: Think Progress
The United States government unveiled $800 billion worth of new loans and debt purchases on Tuesday, hoping another massive infusion of cash would smooth troubled credit markets and make borrowing easier for homebuyers, small businesses and students.
The Federal Reserve said it would buy up to $600 billion in mortgage-backed assets from government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It would buy up to $100 billion in debt directly from the companies and up to $500 billion in mortgage-backed securities.
“This action is being taken to reduce the cost and increase the availability of credit for the purchase of houses, which in turn should support housing markets and foster improved conditions in financial markets more generally,” the Federal Reserve said in a statement.
Separately, the Fed and Treasury Department announced a $200 billion program to ease commercial lending on debt like student loans, car loans or business loans. The Fed would lend up to $200 billion to holders of asset-backed securities supported by car loans, credit card loans, student loans, and business loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration.
The program would be seeded with $20 billion in “credit protection” from the Treasury Department, which is drawing the money from the original $700 billion bailout.
“It gives institutions liquidity and it’s clearly direct lending that will help consumers,” Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said Tuesday at a news conference.The announcements came one day after President-elect Barack Obama unveiled his economic team and tried to assure Americans that he was seeking to fill any leadership vacuum, and said his economic advisers would begin working “today.” The advisers include Timothy F. Geithner, his choice for Treasury secretary.
Amid the chaos and chatter about this week’s financial bailout, one clear theme emerged in some quarters: The era of free-market fundamentalism is over. But is it, really?
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