WASHINGTON, DC-A bill unveiled by a bipartisan group of Senators last week reads like a step-by-step roadmap for dismantling the GSEs and rebuilding housing finance from the ground up. Not that the bill, “Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act” pretends anything otherwise.
One of the measure’s tenants, co-authors Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Mark Warner (D-VA)have plainly said, is to dissolve Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac within five years of the bill’s passage and have a “different, modernized and streamlined agency” take over its remaining functions. [See "A Roadmap for Housing Finance Change," for other requirements in the bill.]
The commercial real estate community’s lobbying apparatus issued the expected statements in response to the bill’s debut. The bill is being studied, they said, and while a push for a stronger mortgage finance market is welcome it is hoped it will be done in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. Etc, etc, etc.
To be sure, behind the scenes there is some concern. One spokesperson for a representative organization told me, on the grounds of non-attribution, that any movement by Washington that could introduce change to mortgage finance is worrisome; few people, though, will say so on the record or pick specific points to raise for fear of bring Congress’ wrath down on the organization.
Those, however, are three-in-the-morning-type fears, this person continued. By the light of day, it is recognized that for this legislative cycle, chances are slim that major legislation will get very far.
David Johnson, a long-time political operative and principal of Strategic Vision, echoes this sentiment. “There is definitely an appetite for GSE reform, I won’t deny that. However comprehensive tax reform will take precedent, as will the IRS-Tea Party targeting issue and immigrant reform.” Once those issues are settled, he tells GlobeSt.com, Congress may take on housing finance reform, “but frankly I see the air getting sucked out of the issue before anything tangible is done. And as always, the closer we get to the next election, less action will be taken on anything.”
The Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act, though, is well worth watching for several reasons. GSE reform has been talked about for years; sooner or later, something will come to fruition in Washington. And this legislation provides an excellent roadmap as to where Congress’ thinking is on the matter.
“Some might say this [bill] goes too far, others not far enough,” the sponsors wrote when the bill was announced. “But regardless of where your political sensibilities are, you cannot think the current system works. Make no mistake; time is not on our side.”