Tag Archives: President Bush

President Bush Signs Housing Bill in Near Secret Without Ceremony or Photo Ops

We don’t understand why President Bush took such an under-the-radar approach to his eventual support for the new housing bill that he signed into law on Wednesday.

For months, Bush said that he opposed the bill and would veto it if it passed Congress.

Then he changed his mind.

We suspect that political polls trumped Bush’s conservative principles and that he was convinced by senior members of his party that if he followed through with his veto threat, Republicans would face an even bleaker November.

But why, then, did he appear to want to sign the bill in secret?

Instead of orchestrating a high-visibility signing ceremony, in which he could assert Republican Party leadership in dealing with the three-headed monster of the housing-mortgage-and-credit crisis, Bush opted for a muted 7 a.m. affair with only his Treasury Secretary and a few aides present. 

No members of Congress — either Republican or Democrat — were there to get a pen and a photo opportunity.

If he could, before the signing he probably would have borrowed an invisibility cloak from Harry Potter.

This seems to us to have been the worst possible outcome for Republicans and John McCain. 

First, President Bush signed a bill that he had repeatedly insisted he would veto — appearing to capitulate to political pressure and to be following the Democrats rather than leading the country on the central issues in the economy. 

Then, by signing the bill in near secret, he deprived Senator McCain and the Republican Party of an opportunity to stage their concern for beleaguered homeowners and their command of the country’s economic problems, complete with photo ops of presidential handshakes and congratulations to the Republican leadership, taking credit (however undeserved) for the government’s response to the housing crisis.

Whether the housing bill will actually help homeowners remains to be seen.

But it is clear that President Bush seems intent on it not helping Senator McCain or his struggling Republican Party.


N.Y. Times Editorial Calls for Foreclosure Prevention Legislation Before the Next Mortgage Meltdown

The New York Times entered into the politics of the foreclosure crisis with an explosive editorial today accusing the Bush administration of failing to protect the economy and instead “sowing confusion and delay” in the face of the mortgage meltdown.

Here’s what the Times said:

“The housing bust is feeding on itself: price declines provoke foreclosures, which provoke more price declines. And the problem is not limited to subprime mortgages. There is an entirely different category of risky loans whose impact has yet to be felt — loans made to creditworthy borrowers but with tricky terms and interest rates that will start climbing next year.”

“Yet the Senate Banking Committee goes on talking. It has failed as yet to produce a bill to aid borrowers at risk of foreclosure, with the panel’s ranking Republican, Richard Shelby of Alabama, raising objections. In the House, a foreclosure aid measure passed recently, but with the support of only 39 Republicans. The White House has yet to articulate a coherent way forward, sowing confusion and delay.”

“[I]f house prices fall more than expected — a peak-to-trough decline of 20 percent to 25 percent is the rough consensus, with the low point in mid-2009 — financial losses and economic pain could extend well into 2011.”

“That is because a category of risky adjustable-rate loans — dubbed Alt-A, for alternative to grade-A prime loans — is scheduled to reset to higher payments starting in 2009, with losses mounting into 2010 and 2011. Distinct from subprime loans, Alt-A loans were made to generally creditworthy borrowers, but often without verification of income or assets and on tricky terms, including the option to pay only the interest due each month. Some loans allow borrowers to pay even less than the interest due monthly, and add the unpaid portion to the loan balance. Every payment increases the amount owed.”

“In coming years, if price declines are in line with expectations, Alt-A losses are projected to total about $150 billion, an amount the financial system could probably absorb. But until investors are sure that price declines will hew to the consensus, the financial system will not regain a sure footing. And if declines are worse than expected, losses will also be worse and the turmoil in the financial system will resume.”

“There’s a way to avert that calamity. It’s called foreclosure prevention. There is no excuse for delay.”

We agree with the Times that effective foreclosure prevention legislation is long overdue.  As the Times pointed out, unless Congress acts fast, it is likely that the economic consequences of the bursting of the housing bubble will be even more serious and widespread.

Even Fed Chair Ben Bernanke — who could not be called an advocate of government intervention in the markets — has stated that “High rates of delinquency and foreclosure can have substantial spillover effects on the housing market, the financial markets, and the broader economy” and that what is at stake is not merely the homes of borrowers, but “the stability of the financial system.” 

We also can not imagine a more self-defeating political strategy than that of the Republicans who have opposed foreclosure prevention legislation. 

We’ve already written about Senator Richard Shelby’s close ties to the apartment owners industry, which has aggressively opposed federal aid to homeowners in, or near, default.

Surely, with the presidential election only months away and their party in trouble, more Republicans — including Senator McCain — should see the need for coming to terms with the economic, and political, realities of the foreclosure crisis, even if it requires ideological compromise.


Can HUD Be Saved?

We had all but forgotten about the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) when HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson resigned on Monday.

His resignation, far more than his tenure on the Cabinet, reminded us that HUD has a role to play in the current housing and mortgage crisis, particularly in regard to the regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

We would like to see HUD take an active role in investigating whether discrimination played a role in the subprime mortgage crisis, which has hit the cities and minorities especially hard.

We would also like to see HUD participate in ramped-up efforts to expose and punish mortgage fraud, which has also disproportionately affected minorities.

But perhaps it is too late for HUD.

Created with great hope in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, HUD was given the powerful mission of developing and executing a national policy on housing and cities.  Since then, HUD has become a center of government corruption and waste, betraying the public trust in scandal after scandal under both Democratic and Republication administrations, as it awarded contracts and funneled enormous sums of public money on the basis of personal and political connections rather than the public interest.   

Alphonso Jackson’s resignation gives President Bush the opportunity to appoint a new HUD secretary who is capable of dealing with the devastating consequences of the housing crisis and the mortgage meltdown on the cities.

Whomever the president picks, the first job of any new HUD secretary will be to overcome and reverse HUD’s decades-long track record of incompetence and corruption.

That will be an extremely difficult task.