The Fannie And Freddy “Secret”
The Obama administration and Democrats have consistently blamed the financial problems that the country has faced on Wall Street, banks and their greed. But it has just as consistently ignored the role and cost of two quasi-governmental agencies which were also in the center of the financial storm – Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae. The Wall Street Journal points out that the cost to the government (and therefore the taxpayer) of these two institutions has been kept “off books” by the fiction that they’re “private institutions”. But, in fact, they’re really not:
As the CBO notes in a recent background paper, the standards for when to include government-sponsored entities in the budget go back to the 1960s, when a Presidential commission laid out a set of questions.
To wit: “Who owns the agency?” (In the case of Fan and Fred, taxpayers.) “Who supplies its capital?” (Taxpayers.) “Who selects its managers?” (The federal government.) And finally, “Do the Congress and the President have control over the agency’s program and budget, or are the agency’s policies the responsibility of the Congress or the President only in some broad ultimate sense?” (The feds have control in every sense.)
The point, of course, is the claim they’re “quasi-governmental” or “private” entities is fiction. They are, in every way, controlled by the federal government and were as involved in the financial melt down as any other institution. In fact, there’s an argument that they were the instututions which made the housing bubble possible and, through their policies, encouraged it.
And if you want to talk about losses and costs to taxpayers, take a gander at these numbers:
Since Hank Paulson placed them in conservatorship in September 2008, Fan and Fred have stopped even pretending to be run for profit. Losses have mounted accordingly: Some $291 billion for taxpayers through 2009, $48 billion for the cost of new business in 2009 alone, and $21 billion more this year. Last August, CBO estimated the 10-year cost to taxpayers of keeping Fannie and Freddie afloat at $389 billion.
And it is now estimated that the two will average losses of 8 billion a year for the next 10 years, assuming the housing market stabalizes soon. Yes, that’s 80 billion over 10 years in addition to the losses above. Why isn’t the president hollering “we want our money back” at them?
The full cost of subsidizing mortgages via Fannie and Freddie, the FHA and Ginnie Mae remains hidden and off the official balance sheet, so there is little political pressure to stop the losses.
As the CBO notes, Fannie and Freddie “purchase mortgages at above-market prices,” driving down interest rates and passing some of the savings to home buyers. That subsidy is felt right away, but the risks in providing it are stored up over time, and their real costs may not be felt for years or even decades—as was the case in the years leading up to their spectacular collapse in 2008.
With the spectacular debt the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are running up, they’re looking for every creative accounting means available to hide the truth. This is one of those ways. By pretending that Freddie and Fanny are “private” institutions, when it is clear they belong to the government in every conceivable way, they can keep their losses off the second set of government books presented to the public and say “see, it’s really not as bad as you think”.
Of course if a bank or Wall Street institution kept those kind of books, they’d go to jail.
We suspect the real reason the White House wants Fan and Fred off budget is to disguise their real costs to taxpayers. They have become off-the-books subsidy engines for the housing lobby, and it is easier to push off the recognition of their losses to some future Administration and Congress rather than pay for them today. The new age of transparency has once again died aborning.