Beware the financial Trojan horse
The Obama administration and Congressional leaders are pushing a Trojan-horse financial “reform” bill that would enrich the wealthy and powerful investment bank Goldman Sachs, which was recently cited for massive fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). That’s the discovery of John Berlau, who won the National Press Club’s Sandy Hume Memorial Award for exposing the conflicts of interest of a former IRS Commissioner.
Earlier, the administration used the AIG bailout to give billions in legally unnecessary payments to Goldman Sachs, which is so rich that it has admitted it didn’t even need the money. Goldman Sachs, one of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors, is using its political connections to reap record profits.
Moreover, Obama’s legislation would do nothing to rein in the worst offenders behind the mortgage crisis, the government-subsidized mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even as it would give the government the permanent ability to bail out Wall Street firms.
Obama’s proposed financial rules overhaul does absolutely nothing about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, admits Obama’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, even though he admits that “Fannie and Freddie were a core part of what went wrong in our system.” Worse, the Obama administration lifted the $400-billion limit on bailouts for Fannie and Freddie, so that they could continue to buy up junky mortgages at taxpayer expense, and showered their executives with $42 million in compensation.
The administration is now expanding the bailouts of these mortgage giants, which are now giving lavish pay to their CEOs and reducing the payments of deadbeat mortgage borrowers. (At the direction of the Obama administration, Freddie Mac is now running up $30 billion in losses to bail out mortgage borrowers, some of whom have high incomes. Federal regulators sought to make Freddie Mac hide the resulting losses from the SEC and the public).
Fannie and Freddie helped spawn the mortgage crisis by acting as loan toilets, buying up risky mortgages and thus creating an artificial market for junk. “From the time Fannie and Freddie began buying risky loans as early as 1993, they routinely misrepresented the mortgages they were acquiring, reporting them as prime when they had characteristics that made them clearly subprime.”
Why did they buy these risky loans? They put up with Clinton-era affordable-housing regulations that required them to buy up lots of risky loans, in order to curry favor on Capitol Hill and thus retain their annual $10 billion in tax and other special privileges (which they possessed owing to their status as “Government-Sponsored Enterprises” or GSEs). They paid their CEOs millions in the process, and engaged in massive accounting fraud — $6.3 billion at Fannie Mae alone — to increase the size of their managers’ bonuses. As GSEs, they were exempt from the capital requirements that apply to private banks, so they did not have enough reserves to cover their losses when their mortgages started defaulting.
Banking expert Peter J. Wallison, who prophetically warned against the risky practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for years, says that Obama’s proposals will lead to “bailouts forever” and give big, politically connected banks that are “too big to fail” the ability to drive smaller rivals out of business at the expense of consumers and taxpayers. His colleague Alex Pollock notes that Obama has not lived up his administration’s claims that it would back reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Government pressure on banks to make loans in economically-depressed neighborhoods was another key reason for the mortgage meltdown and the financial crisis. If Obama has his way, that pressure will increase. The House earlier approved Obama’s proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. “The agency would be in charge of enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act, a law that prods banks to make loans in low-income communities.” It would do so without regard for banks’ financial safety and soundness, even though the Community Reinvestment Act was a key contributor to the financial crisis.
Hans Bader is counsel to special projects at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This article originally appeared on the CEI blog.