From today’s New York Times:
With midterm elections near, though, there will be talk aplenty about dealing with the companies precisely because Dodd-Frank didn’t address them. Unfortunately, if past is prologue, this talk is likely to be more political than practical.
Fannie and Freddie amplified the housing boom by buying mortgages from lenders, allowing them to originate even more loans. They grew into behemoths because they lobbied aggressively and played the Washington political game to a T. But after both companies bought boatloads of risky mortgages, they required a federal rescue.
The Treasury’s study on Fannie, Freddie and housing finance must be delivered to Congress by the end of January 2011. In a speech last week, Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, told a New York audience that resolving the companies isn’t “rocket science.”
But attaining genuine remedies for our housing finance system could actually be harder than rocket science. That’s because it would require an honest dialogue about the role the federal government should play in housing. It also requires a candid conversation about whether promoting homeownership through tax policy and other federal efforts remains a good idea, given the economic disaster we’ve just lived through.
Alas, honest dialogues on third-rail topics like housing have proved to be a bridge too far for many in Washington. So, what we may hear instead about Fannie and Freddie before the elections is a lot of sound and fury signifying a stealthy return to the status quo.
This would be unfortunate, not only because the financial crisis presents a rare opportunity to reassess the supposed benefits of homeownership but also because there was a lot not to like about the way these companies operated and the ways their friends in Congress enabled that behavior.
Outwardly, Fannie and Freddie wrapped themselves in the American flag and the dream of homeownership. But internally, they were relentless in their pursuit of profits from partners in the mortgage boom. One of their biggest and most steadfast collaborators was Countrywide, the subprime lending machine run by Angelo R. Mozilo.
Countrywide was the biggest supplier of loans to Fannie during the mania; in 2004, it sold 26 percent of the loans Fannie bought. Three years later, it was selling 28 percent. What Countrywide got out of the relationship was clear — a buyer for its dubious loans. Now the taxpayer is on the hook for those losses.
But what was in it for Fannie?
An internal Fannie document from 2004 obtained by The New York Times sheds light on this question. A “Customer Engagement Plan” for Countrywide, it shows how assiduously Fannie pursued Mr. Mozilo and 14 of his lieutenants to make sure the company continued to shovel loans its way.
Read the whole thing here. It is a good article. Of course, it would have been very helpful if this had come out, you know, while Congress was considering its bill to remake the financial services industry. Of course, the 2,000+ page bill did nothing to address Fannie and Freddie. Because, you know, when our house burns down we should all just ignore the guy who lit the match.