By 2004, all of the elements of the current financial collapse had been in place for several years. The aggressive approach to enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) started under Bill Clinton in 1998, and the seemingly endless appetite for paper by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had turned massive amounts of bad loans into mortgage-backed securities to spread their cancer throughout the system. In 2004, a year after the Bush administration tried to tighten regulation and oversight on Fannie and Freddie, Congress was told yet again that disaster loomed. The Democratic response is instructive to seeing who really sat back and allowed this collapse to occur (via Power Line):
Highlights of this eight-minute video:
Maxine Waters: Through nearly a dozen hearings, we were frankly trying to fix something that wasn’t broke. Mr. Chairman, we do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac, and particularly at Fannie Mae, under the outstanding leadership of Franklin Raines. [Raines would barely avoid prosecution for fraud.]
Gregory Meeks: … I’m just pissed off at OFHEO [the regulators trying to warn Congress of insolvency at the GSEs], because if it wasn’t for you, I don’t think we’d be here in the first place. … There’s been nothing that indicated that’s wrong with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac has come up on its own … The question that then comes up is the competence that your agency has with reference to deciding and regulating these GSEs.
Lacy Clay: This hearing is about the political lynching of Franklin Raines.
Barney Frank: I don’t see anything in this report that raises safety and soundness problems.
Take a good look through this video in 2004, and ask yourself who on this panel wanted more regulatory oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and which members spent their time attacking the regulators. When Barack Obama talks at debates about how the past eight years of regulatory laissez-faire created the problem, he may want to review the transcripts of these hearings and note that Democrats repeatedly undermined regulators and called them everything from incompetent to bigoted in their rush to keep the status quo at Fannie and Freddie.
In 2005, Fortune published a lengthy anaylsis of the impending crash of Fannie Mae, and included this altercation between OFHEO and Congress:
Two weeks later Falcon and Raines faced off against each other in a hearing before the House subcommittee on capital markets, which was chaired by Baker. Consider the circumstances. Falcon was Fannie’s regulator and had leveled serious charges, amounting to fraud, against Fannie Mae. Most CEOs would have seen the wisdom of humility at this point, but Raines showed little. “These accounting standards are highly complex and require determinations on which experts often disagree,” he said, adding that “there were no facts” that supported OFHEO’s charge that Fannie executives had deferred an expense in 1998 to earn bonuses.
And most of the Democrats present agreed with him. “This hearing is about the political lynching of Franklin Raines,” said Congressman William Lacy Clay of Missouri. Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank said, “I see nothing in here that suggests that safety and soundness are an issue.” Other Democrats complained that the mere fact of releasing the report could increase the cost of home-ownership.
“Is it possible that by casting all of these aspersions … you potentially are weakening this institution in the market, that you are potentially weakening the housing market in this country?” Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama demanded. When Falcon tried to answer, Davis acted like a prosecutor grilling a hostile witness. He wanted a one-word answer: yes or no. “Is that possible?” he asked again.
“I have never seen anyone treated as disrespectfully as Armando Falcon was by the Democrats and by Franklin Raines,” recalls one congressional aide. Adds Andrew Cuomo: “I credit him for not folding and not caving and not running, because he took a tremendous beating.”
Unfortunately for the Democrats at this hearing, Raines then doubled down and demanded that the SEC give a second opinion on his business practices. After an investigation, the SEC agreed with Falcon and demanded that Fannie Mae restate its earnings all the way back to 2001 — at which point Raines’ fraud got uncovered. OFHEO had been correct, and the Democrats in this committee meeting had done their level best to interfere with the regulator to cover up for Raines’ fraud.
The Democrats attacking the regulator here didn’t do so out of some deep conviction against government regulation. They wanted to keep the gravy train rolling on questionable mortgages in order to endear themselves to the working class, and didn’t mind smearing the OFHEO regulator as a racist in order to succeed. The Republicans who wanted more oversight didn’t demand it as socialists looking for a government takeover of the financial sector, either, but because they saw the impending disaster looming for Fannie Mae.
Democrats distorted the market through the CRA and through Fannie and Freddie’s massive securitizing of bad debt, and then blocked regulators from doing their jobs. That’s the real story of this collapse.