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"Muth's Truths" | 10-30-05 | Chuck Muth

Posted on 11/01/2005 2:44:38 PM PST by EarthStomper

GOP PLAN TO TAX YOU OUT OF HOUSE & HOME by Chuck Muth October 30, 2005

We interrupt our regularly-scheduled red-meat coverage of Supreme Court nominations, politically-inspired indictments, amnesty for illegal aliens and pork-barrel spending to bring you a discussion about...GSEs.

Wait! Don't touch that dial. Before your eyes glaze over, know that today's topic, while not "sexy," is critically important to those of you who might want to buy a house in the post-Greenspan era - complete with another example of Republicans in Congress wandering off the conservative reservation.

First, what the dickens is a "GSE," you might ask? Well, it stands for "Government-Sponsored Enterprise," which also will likely mean absolutely nothing to you. On the other hand, you probably HAVE heard of the two major GSEs: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then again, you likely still have no idea what the heck Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are or do either. Nevertheless, they are key to our economy, so bear with me as I attempt to explain this in Forrest Gump-like terms.

Let's say a local bank has $1 million available to lend for the purpose of buying new homes. And let's say, just for argument's sake, it's still possible to buy a decent family home for $100,000. I know, I know. In some markets, $100,00 would barely cover the down payment. But let's pretend.

Under such circumstances, your local bank could make ten home loans of $100,000 each with its $1 million. Now, unless the bank comes up with some new lending money in excess of its original $1 million, they're tapped out as far as home loans are concerned until one or more of those ten initial loans are paid off. This, in essence, takes the local bank out of the home lending market for the next several years. That means if you were #11 on the home loan list, you could be out of luck buying a home for a long, long time.

With an eye on alleviating that problem, combined with the Jeffersonian notion that the nation would be stronger if more citizens owned their own homes, Congress in the early 1900s created the "government-sponsored enterprise" known popularly as Fannie Mae (short for Federal National Mortgage Association). Fannie Mae - and its sibling, Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.), created in 1970 - are private companies which do NOT get direct money from taxpayers, but which DO enjoy some favorable treatment by the federal government in return for making home ownership more available to more Americans.

The essence of these GSEs is this: They don't lend money directly to you, the home-buyer. Instead, once a bank lends you the $100,000 to buy your house, Fannie and/or Freddie buy your new mortgage from the bank. This is what is called the "secondary mortgage market," and it immediately frees up that $100,000 lent to you for the bank to lend to another potential home buyer. This is an extraordinary benefit if you were #11 on the bank's lending list.

But Fannie and Freddie have been extremely beneficial to home ownership in more ways than by simply making it possible for local banks to offer more home loans.

First, GSEs are restricted to buying residential, not commercial mortgages. And their charter limits them to mortgages of around $350,000 or less. Their purpose, then, is to help moderate- and low-income families obtain the American dream of home ownership. They are not in the market of financing Hollywood mansions for Barbra Streisand and George Clooney. Fannie and Freddie's focus is on Main Street, U.S.A., and John Q. Public.

And for you young 'uns, a little historical lesson and perspective. In the "old days," before Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed mortgage was almost unheard of in the home-lending market. Today, somewhere around 70 and 80 percent of such home mortgages are issued under such terms. The 30-year mortgage, combined with relatively stable and lower interest rates, have made monthly home-loan payments affordable for millions of average-income citizens who otherwise would still be renting instead of buying.

Then there's the ability to sell your home and pay off your loan early without paying a hefty penalty. While taken for granted today, in the "old days" prepayment penalties were extremely high. Fannie and Freddie's no pre-payment penalty loans have made it possible for you to buy a home, keep it for a few years, build up some equity, sell it for a profit without a pre-payment penalty, and buy another home. A bigger home. A newer home. Or a home in a different neighborhood, city, or state.

This mobility, among other things, allows people who live in high-tax/job-killing/big-government "blue" states such as Taxachussetts to more easily sell the house, pick up and move the family to a low-tax/job-creating/limited government "red" state such as Nevada. But I digress.

Again acknowledging that this is a VERY simplistic explanation of the GSE lending market, once Fannie or Freddie buys your mortgage from the local bank, they generally do one of two things with it: They turn around and sell it to investors (often overseas investors who see the U.S. real estate market as a safe bet and want a piece of the action), or they retain the mortgage in their own portfolio, allowing Fannie and Freddie share-holders and investors to reap the profits from the interest you pay on your home loan.

And there's the rub.

It seems Fannie and Freddie have had some accounting problems in recent years. Freddie's problem is that it turned out they UNDER-stated their earnings from its operations. As accounting problems go, if you're going to have one, THAT'S the one you want. As opposed to Fannie, which - under the leadership of Franklin Raines (a former Clinton official; go figure), OVER-stated its earnings to shareholders by a whopping $11 billion. We'll take conservative estimates over exaggerated claims any day of the week.

Still, as government-favored operations, Congress clearly has a responsibility and legitimate right under the circumstances to inject some additional oversight and regulation into the operations of Fannie and Freddie. But as Congress is wont to do, some are now trying to apply a tourniquet where a band-aid is called for.

What's disheartening is that it's Republicans who are leading the charge to overreact to the GSE situation. Some aren't satisfied with keeping a sharper eye on Freddie and Fannie's accounting. Instead, they want to FORCE Freddie and Fannie to sell off a substantial number of the profitable mortgages they're holding in their portfolios. Rather than merely assuring accurate accounting, these members of Congress are considering an active role in actually manipulating the market and picking new winners and losers.

And to add insult to injury, the normally conservative House Republican Study Committee (RSC) recently proposed socking the portfolios with a new $2 BILLION tax (they call it a "fee") on Freddie and Fannie's portfolios in order to pay for hurricane relief. What's amazing is that the conservative RSC, which should KNOW better, doesn't seem to think this enormous new tax will be passed on to you and I, the consumer; that this new tax won't somehow find itself being added to your suddenly-higher monthly home mortgage payment.

Now, there IS a free-market argument to be made as to whether or not Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be privatized completely. It's pretty much the same argument which can be made about the post office; one which I've made myself on many an occasion. But that's NOT what we're talking about today. None of the "reform" measures currently being considered would privatize Freddie and Fannie. What's being contemplated today is taking an enormously successful program - one which has made affordable home ownership possible for millions of average Americans from sea to shining sea - and not only putting it in a straight-jacket, but stripping it bare and taxing the tar out of it, as well. Lovely.

If there's one thing Congress is consistently good at, it's screwing things up. They never seem to learn the lesson that if something works, don't fix it. If only Congress would adopt the medical community's philosophy of, "First, do no harm." But no. While there is indeed need for moderate GSE reform, some Republicans are preparing for radical surgery. The result isn't likely to be pretty and could end up killing the patient. And you and I are going to pay for it through the nose.

Thanks, Congress. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program...

# # #

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at

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Copyright 2005 Chuck Muth. All rights reserved. "Muth's Truths" may be republished providing the column is copied intact, and full credit is given. Talk show producers interested in scheduling an interview with Mr. Muth should call (202) 558-7162.

TOPICS: Government; News/Current Events
Why aren't conservatives more fired up over this issue? The government wants to take away the profits of perfectly legitimate companies and devalue our homes. What is going on here?
1 posted on 11/01/2005 2:44:40 PM PST by EarthStomper
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To: EarthStomper

Bottom line I am not a fan of too many of the elected lately or democrat

2 posted on 11/01/2005 2:47:57 PM PST by Kimmers
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To: EarthStomper

EM I'm gonna need you to finish those TPM reports, okay.

3 posted on 11/01/2005 2:48:14 PM PST by OSHA (I've got a hole in my head too, but that's beside the point.)
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To: EarthStomper

Because it's not clear to me as to what the RSC will be doing to homeowners. (?)

4 posted on 11/01/2005 2:48:41 PM PST by stopem
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To: EarthStomper

because most people do not understand the premise of the post.

5 posted on 11/01/2005 2:50:39 PM PST by Burlem
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To: EarthStomper
As opposed to Fannie, which - under the leadership of Franklin Raines (a former Clinton official; go figure), OVER-stated its earnings to shareholders by a whopping $11 billion.

Jamie Gorelick also has her fine hand in the pot.

Oh yeah, Franky boy got a nice bonus based on those false statements.

You may find that both GSE's are under water.

I find it interesting that you don't think the market could provide home loans or that somehow this is a constitutional government function. Oh yeah, that's right the infamous commerce clause that FDR turned into a super highway made GSE's possible.

6 posted on 11/01/2005 2:54:14 PM PST by Jimmy Valentine's brother ( We need a few more Marines like Lt. Gen. James Mattis)
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Comment #7 Removed by Moderator

To: EarthStomper

tax and tax and tax and tax and tax antntax trna fcvmlkndflknv.mndvf.,m

8 posted on 11/01/2005 3:03:36 PM PST by jjm2111 (99.7 FM Radio Kuwait)
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To: EarthStomper
I fondly recall the scene from the dark comedy movie "Mars Attacks" where the Martians "clean up" Congress...oh well...if only life could imitate art.
9 posted on 11/01/2005 3:03:47 PM PST by Apercu ("Res ipsa loquitur")
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To: EarthStomper
"Why aren't conservatives more fired up over this issue? The government wants to take away the profits of perfectly legitimate companies and devalue our homes. What is going on here?

One moment while I put on my Nomex suit.

Short answer: The Government should not be in the business of inflating home values.

Slightly longer answer: Fannie and Freddie are out of control and dangerous to the financial health of America ... In addition, social engineering through tax incentives in the name of home ownership is just another case of Washingtom distorting markets. You may like the results in this instance, but like interventions in general, Government actions deliberatly benefiting one group at the expense of others are just another form of fraud.

BTW IMO things are already so distorted in the residential real estate marret that any attempts to quickly deflate the bubble would be catastrophic. If I had a magic wand I would phase out Fannie and Freddie's Government granted advantages and make them bring their balance sheets into something less laughable [and pray that they do not collapse under their own weight in the meantime] and phase the mortgage interest deduction out over 15 or 20 years.

10 posted on 11/01/2005 3:41:36 PM PST by R W Reactionairy ("Everyone is entitled to their own opinion ... but not to their own facts" Daniel Patrick Monihan)
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To: woogmonster


11 posted on 11/01/2005 3:51:52 PM PST by Kimmers
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To: EarthStomper
I read about this in this last Saturdays newspaper. If Bush takes away what we can deduct when itemizing it would be like his Dad's "Read My Lips" blunder. To be fare though, this is a bipartisan commission appointed by Bush. He could still stand-up and reject the proposal stating it amounts to a tax increase. Going to have to stay tuned to see what happens.
12 posted on 11/01/2005 4:39:18 PM PST by NavyCanDo
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To: NavyCanDo
If Bush takes away what we can deduct when itemizing it would be like his Dad's "Read My Lips" blunder.

Yeah! Exactly!

No WAY that sumb*tch would get re-elected in 2008, then...

13 posted on 11/01/2005 8:02:39 PM PST by an amused spectator (If Social Security isn't broken, then cut me a check for the cash I have into it.)
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