Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac might not be going anywhere after all

In early August, in light of the slowly recovering housing market, President Obama announced some sweet new plans to push Congress to shutter the two federal mortgage giants to which much of the blame for the housing bubble and the bursting thereof belongs, and to which taxpayers so generously provided a bailout to the tune of more than $180 billion. To review:

In a speech Tuesday in Phoenix, Obama will call for transitioning the business model of Fannie and Freddie into a system where “private capital must be wiped out before the government pays on any form of catastrophic guarantee,” a senior administration official said. …

“So many Americans across the country view their own economic and financial circumstances through their homes and whether they own a home, whether their home is underwater, whether they feel like they have equity in their homes,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

Senior administration officials said Obama would focus in Phoenix on shifting more of the burden for supporting the nation’s massive mortgage market to the private sector. A centerpiece of that effort is his support for winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The prospect of winding down the clock on the two federal entities is certainly a welcome one, with the very huge qualifier of determining precisely what it is the White House wants to replace them with — but Obama’s suggestion was evidently a mark of his support of a bipartisan Senate effort to put the entities on track for a five-year exit strategy, the exact details of which legislators are still hammering out.

The idea of dissolving/overhauling Fannie and Freddie has lately been gaining in momentum, but Bloomberg is reporting that — while the official position of the White House and the involved senators hasn’t changed — the consensus that the two companies should be dismantled is being greeted with some heady challenges in the form of opposition from hedge funds, regional banks, and others:

President Barack Obama and lawmakers from both parties have called for the two mortgage-finance companies to be replaced by a new U.S. housing system. While the official position hasn’t changed, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators writing legislation is grappling with how to ensure that changes to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don’t disrupt the recovering housing market. …

The changing atmosphere was reflected at a meeting today on Capitol Hill between congressional aides and representatives from the mortgage industry. Among questions on a list handed out by staff members of the Senate banking panel were whether parts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be spun off or sold to private investors instead of wound down, according to three people who attended. Participants were given until the end of October to respond in writing, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because the meeting wasn’t public.
‘Renovating’ Fannie

Isaac Boltansky, an analyst with Compass Point Research & Trading LLC in Washington, said that until recently policy makers were engaged in a philosophical debate. Now they have to deal with the practical challenges, he said.

“The conversation is going to shift to whether it’s necessary to burn down the whole house just to rebuild it, or whether there’s merit in renovating it,” said Boltansky.

Of course, you knew that getting rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was never going to be that simple, because part of the very nature of big-government programs is that putting them in place is infinitely more simple than dismantling them.