Fannie-Freddie overhaul is back on the table

Bipartisan lawmakers look to reduce the government's role in the mortgage giants

TRD New York /
May.May 11, 2017 09:30 AM

Mel Watt

Overhauling the government’s role in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is back on the table.

With backing from President Trump — who’s stated his support for an overhaul — a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is working behind the scenes to revamp the companies the government took over in 2008.

The Senate Banking Committee is looking to reduce the government’s role in the $10 trillion mortgage market, and the panel will hear testimony Thursday from Mel Watt, director of Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Fannie and Freddie buy mortgages from lenders, turn them into bonds and sell them to investors. Under the 2008 agreement, the Treasury Department agreed to inject cash to support the $5 trillion in debt securities the companies issued. In exchange for $258 billion worth of ongoing support, Fannie and Freddie also send profits to the Treasury.

Watt is expected to suggest Fannie and Freddie retain their earnings rather than sending them to Treasury, according to an advance copy of his remarks obtained by the Journal. “We cannot risk the loss of investor confidence,” according to the remarks.
A failed plan drafted in 2013 would have replaced Fannie and Freddie within five years with a “public guarantor.” This time around, conservative Republicans are calling for a private market with no federal guarantees, while centrist Republicans and Democrats say a federal role is necessary. President Trump hasn’t advanced a proposal of his own.

But the White House has made it a priority, and the effort appears to have bipartisan support. “Unlike some other issues that are on Congress’s plate right now, this topic has a relatively robust recent history of bipartisan work,” said Jim Parrott, a former Obama administration housing adviser. [WSJ]E.B. Solomont


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