Today marks the first-ever meeting of the Financial Crisis Inquiry
Commission, which is charged with investigating the causes of the
The next two days of meetings feature big names in banking, along with
Obama administration officials. But there’s a glaring omission: a big —
or make that two
big — trillion-dollar government-subsidized elephants in the room that
the commission’s Democrat leaders are trying their best to ignore.
The commission, established by Congress to look into the causes of the
mortgage meltdown, has the opportunity to explore the mistakes of the
policy and business worlds and ensure that those mistakes aren’t made
Unfortunately, the lineup of the commission’s first hearing today
indicates that the hearing will be little more than a partisan sham
that skips over politicians’ own role in enabling the crisis through
the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Testifying at today’s hearing are executives from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and other big banks.
This is all well and good, but the commissioners called no one from the
mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie, widely acknowledged to be at the
center of the crisis. This suggests that the commission, formed by
Congress last year with a 6-4 Democratic majority, may be trying to
cover the tracks of the politicians who worked to shield Fannie and
Freddie from oversight.
As the Commission’s own appointee, Peter Wallison recently wrote in The
Wall Street Journal, “By the end of 2008, Fannie and Freddie held or
guaranteed approximately 10 million subprime and Alt-A mortgages and
mortgage-backed securities (MBS) — risky loans with a total principal
balance of $1.6 trillion.”
Even more damning is recent data uncovered by housing expert Edward
Pinto, Fannie’s former chief credit officer, that Fannie and Freddie
mislabeled the mortgages they bought and resold as “prime” when many
had subprime characteristics.
According to Pinto, who has presented his findings before Congress,
millions of mortgages to borrowers with credit scores of less than 660
— considered by prominent researcher to be the dividing line for
subprime loans — had been labeled by Fannie and Freddie as prime going
back as early as 1993.
Wallison noted that this misrepresentation by the government-backed
mortgage giants could have itself been a major factor in inflating the
housing bubble. “Market observers, rating agencies and investors were
unaware of the number of subprime and Alt-A mortgages infecting the
financial system in late 2006 and early 2007,” he wrote.
CEI President Fred Smith had long warned about the systemic risk Fannie
and Freddie posed to the financial system, warning as early as 2000
that their implosion could cause a taxpayer bailout of as much as $200
That turned out to have greatly underestimated the $400 billion the
bailout has already cost taxpayers and the possibly hundreds of
billions more it will cost them, since the Obama administration removed
the cap on Treasury Department assistance this November. But at the
time, his voice was a voice in the wilderness as members of Congress
pooh-poohed the notion of Fannie and Freddie ever slipping up.
In 2003, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., now chairman of the House
Financial Services Committee, even publicly called for the mortgage
entities to “roll the dice” on less credit worthy borrowers.
The Bush administration also pushed policies that tilted incentives
toward home ownership, and the mistakes of politicians of both parties
should be examined in thorough hearings.
Unfortunately, it looks as is the commission is so far giving a pass to the fat cats from Washington.