GSE Reform Passes House Panel
The House Financial Services Committee passed the Protecting American Taxpayers and Homeowners Act on July 24 by a vote of 30-27.
H.R. 2767, which now faces a vote on the floor of the House, would eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and largely privatize the secondary mortgage market but also bring regulatory relief to credit unions.
For the most part, committee voting ran along party lines, with Republicans voting for the bill and Democrats voting against it. Two exceptions were Republicans Gary Miller of California, who is vice chairman of the committee and had previously introduced his own regulatory relief bill, and Mike Fitzgerald of Pennsylvania. Their media representatives did not respond to requests to explain why they voted against the bill.
Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) did not vote. Watt’s abstention wasn’t unexpected, as he awaits Senate confirmation to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie.
“The passage of this legislation today is a critical step in reforming our nation’s housing finance system and ensuring the American taxpayers no longer have to fund $200 billion bailouts,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), lead sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises subcommittee.
During the July 23 mark up session, which ran 11 hours, debate was spirited as congressmen from the opposing parties talked over each other and quarreled over the bill’s details. Despite the show, Democrats did not successfully add any amendments to the bill as Republicans outnumbered them and consistently voted against their proposed amendments.
No specific credit union amendments were proposed. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said during a July 18 legislative briefing that he would ask committee leadership to add supplemental capital for credit unions to the regulatory relief section but no such amendment was mentioned. However, credit unions did receive a lot of lip service from both parties, according to NAFCU Vice President of Legislative Affairs Brad Thaler.
“From a credit union perspective, there has been a lot of talk about what impact the bill will have upon community banks and credit unions,” Thaler said via phone from outside the mark up session as it stretched into its eighth hour. “Republicans are talking a lot about Title IV regulatory relief, and the Democrats are talking about concerns regarding secondary market access. So both sides have made a lot of mention of credit unions, just in different context.”
The bill faces longer odds of passing the House floor because a provision that would reduce the conforming loan limit in high-cost districts from $625,500 to $525,000 could be opposed by members from both parties.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would strike that section from the bill, saying it was unfair to homeowners in districts such as his in Southern California.
“Ten million Californians live in areas where the median home price is $525,000 or more,” he said. Sherman added that the median home price in Hensarling’s central Texas district is half the median of that in his district, which isn’t the “wealthiest part of Los Angeles.”
Hensarling countered that gradually reducing conforming loan limits in high cost areas is necessary if reform is to move away from a government dominated housing finance system.
“Five hundred twenty-five thousand dollars is more than double the national median home price of $214,000,” Hensarling said. “I fear that ultimately, this is one more way to preserve the status quo, and I would urge a no-vote on his amendment.”
Indeed, Sherman’s amendment was voted down by the Republican committee majority, but Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) continued to debate the issue with vocal detractor Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), saying home prices are higher than the national median in California and Massachusetts because of demand.
“Anybody who wants to move into my state should have the ability to move in just like they did in your district,” he said, taking an additional dig at Republicans by questioning their support of free-market principles.
Mulvaney then shot back at Capuano, saying it wasn’t demand that drives home prices in California and Massachusetts, but rather, building codes and environmental regulations which make construction expensive. And, he added, home supply is limited in crowded urban areas. The two interrupted each other often during the exchange, forcing Hensarling to intervene.