Keep People in Their Homes

Paper of Record Says "It's About the Mortgages"

Today's New York Times editorial page argued that the federal government must do more to keep people in their homes. Since the financial crisis started, NDN has observed that homes are at the root of the financial crisis.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson does not seem like the sort of man who suffers fools gladly. Yet, he apparently is tolerant of, or powerless against, a White House that remains opposed to direct government action to prevent foreclosures — a program that is essential to keep millions of Americans in their homes and head off an even deeper financial catastrophe.

Nearly three weeks ago, Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, told Congress that the agency was working closely with Mr. Paulson’s department to develop a robust anti-foreclosure plan. Since then, the Treasury Department has balked and equivocated while the White House has argued that it is already doing plenty to help homeowners.

After a year of doing far too little to stem a flood of foreclosures, the problem is getting worse. Defaults lead to foreclosures that push down all house prices. Those falling prices — combined with rising unemployment, falling incomes and another expected surge in monthly payments on adjustable rate loans — will surely lead to more defaults and deeper price declines, threatening bank solvency and prolonging the credit crunch.

All roads, into and out of this crisis, run through the housing market. Mr. Paulson should be pressing for a streamlined plan that includes permanent modifications to troubled loans. That is the only way to keep Americans in their homes, save the banks and the economy.

For more on NDN's campaign to keep people in their homes, click here

First Priority Is to Set Priorities

As President-elect Barack Obama turns to the enormous challenges facing the nation, his first priority will be to set his priorities. Already, there are more urgent problems than any president could tackle successfully in a single term, and even more will almost certainly emerge. Moreover, he now will have to lead in ways he did not have to as candidate, by taking real and contentious actions. His historic, landslide election will give him greater, initial political capital than any president since Ronald Reagan. Even so, capital gets spent, and a president’s power and influence are finite, so he will have to choose precisely where he intends to focus all that capital, power and influence.

The lead items on his domestic agenda must be the nation’s financial and economic crisis. That will require, first, steps to slow housing foreclosures. He has pledged to initiate a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, but that would be only a first, modest step. He also could also create a new fund to lend tide-over funds to homeowners facing foreclosure after the 90 days are up, and while Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac work out a responsible plan for them to renegotiate the terms and interest rates on the mortgages of homeowners in distress. He also can help banks get credit flowing again with a temporary, reduced tax rate on an estimated $700 billion in profits now held abroad by the foreign subsidiaries of American companies.

That step also could provide a measure of stimulus for an economy currently entering what is likely to be a long, nasty recession, and addressing the recession also must be one of President Obama’s first priorities. Tax rebates won’t work, since most Americans would most likely save any new checks rather than spend them. So Washington will have to jumpstart the nation’s additional spending, with a new spending package of $200 billion to $250 billion. And President Obama should focus most of it on the long-term investments he called for during the campaign, including grants to digitize health care records and provide access to computer training for current workers, and new supports to modernize the electricity grid and accelerate the development and spread of alternative energy. On top of that – and grants to cash-strapped states so they can avoid large cuts in their Medicaid programs and their workforces – the new president should focus the infrastructure piece of his stimulus on creating a national infrastructure financing bank and initiating new commitments for low-polluting light rail systems in major metropolitan areas.

The president will also hear demands and pleas for a new regulatory framework for the financial sector. That task is clearly a necessary and urgent one, but getting it right will be a long, complex process. His best move would be to create a national, expert commission with a mandate to figure it out over the next six months and report back to the nation.

The president’s serious priority-setting can only really begin once he addresses those emergencies – and it won’t be easy. The stimulus measures can be the first steps toward meeting his pledge to help build a more energy-efficient and climate-friendly economy. And since he will have to choose, the rest of that agenda should probably take lower priority than health care reform. One reason is that while the recession will cut energy prices and energy use with no help from Washington, for at least a time, it will only worsen out health care problems. The recession will further increase the numbers of people without coverage, perhaps by millions, without making a dent in the steady, sharp increases in health care costs that will continue to cut into jobs and wages. And any further delay will only make it all worse. It’s time to carry out his plans to make coverage much more nearly universal, and tie those extensions to a hard-nosed program of cost controls that will require hospitals and clinics to adopt the best practices of the country’s most cost efficient medical centers.

This will leave President Obama with plenty to tackle in the second half of his term. That can be the time to take further steps to help make America more climate friendly and energy efficient. It also has to be the time to build on the cost-control lessons from health care reform and finally address the serious and treacherous business of reforming Medicare and other entitlement spending for tens of millions of Baby Boomers.

And if President Obama can make real progress in these priority areas over his first term, it will almost certainly earn him an even bigger national landslide for a second term. 

Federal Government May Actually Keep People In Their Homes

From recent action on Capitol Hill, it looks as though the federal government may ultimately take action to keep people in their homes. As Sam mentioned in his daily round-up (a relatively new NDN product that has become a must read in the mornings), FDIC Chariman Sheila Bair’s testimony to the Senate Banking Committee yesterday was well-received, and details of the plan are expected in weeks.

From the New York Times:

With foreclosures mounting, Bush administration officials said Thursday that they were preparing to step up efforts to help struggling homeowners.
A senior policy maker told a Senate committee that the administration was working on a plan under which the government would offer to shoulder some of the losses on loans that are modified.

The insurance program could cost tens of billions of dollars, according to a person briefed on discussions about the plan, and would be run by the Treasury Department under the $700 billion financial rescue bill Congress passed earlier this month.

The remarks about the plan, made by Sheila C. Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, came as a new report showed that foreclosure filings jumped 71 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier. At the hearing, Congressional Democrats criticized the administration for not doing enough to help homeowners even as the Treasury and Federal Reserve have moved to inject hundreds of billions of dollars into banks and the financial system.

Ms. Bair, who has been one of the most ardent proponents of loan modifications, acknowledged that more needed to be done. "We are behind the curve," Ms. Bair told the Senate Banking Committee. "We are falling behind. There has been some progress, but it’s not been enough, and we need to act and we need to act quickly and we need to act dramatically."

The Washington Post's front page also has coverage on the proposal. For well over a month, NDN has been arguing that the federal government must take decisive action to keep people in their homes, as stanching forecloures is a key ingedient to stopping the financial cave in. Thankfully, it finally looks as though the federal government will act. For more on the NDN Keep People in Their Homes campaign, click here.

NYT: Keep People in Their Homes

From the pages of today’s New York Times come two articles on the struggles of millions of Americans who are worried about staying in their homes. The first, from the editorial page, argues that there has been "Only Half a Bailout" and echoes a call made by NDN over a month ago to keep people in their homes. The second, by David Leonhardt, ponders some of the pros and cons of doing just that.

From the Editorial Page:

The unfortunate reality is that as long as millions of Americans continue to default on their mortgages and housing prices continue to slide, banks will continue to suffer big losses. Unless something is done quickly to help American homeowners avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes, those losses could swamp the bailout effort by exceeding the sums being spent to rescue the banks.

Despite the danger posed by foreclosures — to the bailout, homeowners, taxpayers and the economy — the Bush administration and Congress are still depending on banks and other participants in the mortgage industry to voluntarily modify troubled loans, say, by giving borrowers more time to pay or by reducing interest rates.

The voluntary approach hasn’t been enough to stanch foreclosures. As things now stand, some 3.2 million homeowners will likely lose their homes to foreclosure this year and next, and millions more will struggle to catch up on delinquencies. Vacancies and defaults will continue to push house prices down; they have already fallen by 20 percent nationwide and are now expected to fall by at least another 10 percent. There is no time to waste to reverse the spiral.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have recognized that this crisis won’t be solved until a way is found to keep many more Americans in their homes.

The editorial goes on to explain detailed options of the Obama and McCain plans, as well as other potential options. The most important point is that homes are the assets at the bottom of this financial cave-in. If foreclosures continue, so will the meltdown. For more on NDN’s Keep People in Their Homes campaign, click here.

FDIC Head: Keep People in Their Homes

The front page of today’s Wall Street Journal features an article on Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair calling on the federal government to do more to keep people in their homes. She echoes an analysis that NDN offered a month ago: that home foreclosures are at the root of this financial crisis and that the federal government must work to keep people in their homes.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair on Wednesday criticized the federal government for failing to take more aggressive steps to prevent Americans from losing their homes, highlighting a rift between her and other senior U.S. officials over terms of the $700 billion rescue package.

The government plan will help stabilize financial markets but it doesn't do enough to address home foreclosures, the root of the crisis, she said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal."Why there's been such a political focus on making sure we're not unduly helping borrowers but then we're providing all this massive assistance at the institutional level, I don't understand it," she said. "It's been a frustration for me."

Ms. Bair has argued the plan should have a bigger focus on homeowners, whose travails are at the heart of the current crisis. Until home prices stop falling, financial markets and the economy are unlikely to stabilize. "This agency, probably as much as anybody, given our genesis in the Depression, has a sense of purpose now perhaps more than any other agency," Ms. Bair said.

Blair’s call is a welcome sign of the growing consensus of the need for a smarter approach from the government on the financial crisis. Keeping people in their homes is not just a moral issue or good politics, it’s crucial to the economy. If the government fails to stabilize the housing market, the financial cave-in will continue. For more on NDN’s campaign to Keep People in Their Homes, click here.

Doing More on the Economy

Marc Ambinder over at the Atlantic does a good job summing up today's political messaging as it relates to the economy. In "Fannie, Freddie, or the Future," Ambinder argues that speaking about the future of the American economy is a better political strategy, and, that going for the gutter, as the McCain camp announced they were going to do, while politically enticing, might not be the best way to win (especially executed this poorly).

[Keating economics] successfully jammed up McCain's message of the day, which is that Obama is somehow to blame for the excesses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Blaming Democrats for Fannie and Freddie's collapse -- implicity, blaming the government for giving people home loans who couldn't afford -- isn't beanbag, but the McCain campaign is using it the way that Democrats used to respond to foreign policy questions: by stumbling around, latching on to a poll-tested response, and ignoring the bigger picture.

Ayers and Keating aside, the leading edge of this debate is about what do we do post-bailout to restore confidence in our economy. The public will rightly pressure both candidates for more answers. It's an opportunity for somebody to come up with a newer, global message. or at least sound like they get the international dimension of our meltdown.

Hitting back with the Keating Five was political necessity from the Obama camp, and as Ambinder writes, has worked today, but Obama's real strength in recent weeks has come on the back of his strong response to the financial crisis. The current narrative about Obama's calm reaction compared with McCain's erratic reaction, believeable because it reinforced preexisting memes about both candidates, will serve Obama well for the next month.

Now, as the Obama campaign launches its Keating Economics piece, Obama himself expands his message on the economy and hits McCain on trying to turn the page. Today in Asheville, North Carolina, Obama had this to say:

We are going to have to then move on an aggressive plan to deal with some of the underlying structural problems in the economy, including the continuing decline in the housing market. Now Senator McCain and I have a debate tomorrow night, and obviously the American people are going to be anxious to hear from one of the two people who’s going to be the next president and responsible for dealing with this economic mess, what their plans are.

As NDN has argued, that plan must include action from Congress and the President to do more to keep people in their homes. For more on NDN's reponse to the financial crisis, visit Keep People in Their Homes.

NYTimes Editorial Page Reacts to the Bailout Collapse

This is running on their site now:

After nearly eight years of voting in virtual lock step with President Bush on everything from tax cuts to torture, House Republicans decided on Monday to break ranks on the survival of the nation's financial system.

The rejected bailout bill that was on the floor after a weekend of hard negotiating was objectionable in many ways, but it was a Republican-generated bill and was improved from the administration's original version. Sixty percent of House Democrats voted for the bill, enough to easily pass the measure if the Republicans had not decided to put on their display of pique and disarray.

The question now is whether the stock-market plunge that followed the House's failure to lead - and a renewed credit freeze - will be enough to get the 133 Republicans who voted against the measure to change their minds. And, more important, whether the damage that the no vote has inflicted is readily reversible.

Republican no votes were rooted less in analysis or principle than in political posturing and ideological rigidity. The House minority leader, John Boehner, conceded as much: "While we were able to move the bill drastically to the right, it wasn't good enough for our members."

It's not clear what would be good enough for the Republicans since there was very little talk of substance on Monday after the bill died on the floor of the House. Instead, the Republicans tried to blame a speech before the vote by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who connected the current crisis to the fiscal and economic mismanagement of the Bush years. It may not have been the perfect moment to say that, but it was true.

Republicans were also upset that serial bailouts represent a rejection of free-market principles. They do. That's because the free market in finance, unregulated and unsupervised, has failed. And, in its failure, it is inflicting greater damage on an already weak economy.

No amount of amendments to the bailout package will change the administration's disastrous economic record or erase the manifest failure of the Republicans' free-markets-above-all ideology.

Since last week, this page has urged Congress to take the time to get the bailout right. Over all, lawmakers have given too little consideration, in public at least, to alternatives to the Treasury's plan to buy up the bad assets from various financial firms.

In the bill rejected on Monday, the unlimited powers that the Treasury Department had initially sought were curbed, and Congressional oversight was added. But judicial review of Treasury's purchases was not adequately ensured. The courthouse door was not closed entirely; lawyers could still seek effective remedies for actions that violate the Constitution. But that's a much higher hurdle than the already formidable barriers in place to discourage lawsuits against the government.

Homeowners were also given short shrift with provisions that mainly urged lenders and the Treasury to do more to help them. That's unconscionable. The financial crisis is as much a problem for homeowners as for Wall Street investment bankers. Appeals to lenders' better natures have not worked to bring lasting relief to homeowners. If they are still not working in the coming months, Congress will have to revisit the issue.

Taxpayer protections are also iffy, such as a requirement that in five years, the president must give Congress a plan for recouping any losses from financial firms. What will happen then is anyone's guess. Lawmakers could decide at that point that taxpayers are the only pit bottomless enough to absorb those losses.

Still, the imperfections in this bill are the result of a democratic process that can be rethought, revisited and reworked. It is better than nothing, which is what some backward-looking House Republicans gave Americans on Monday.

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