Chairman Jeb Hensarling


Posted by on September 26, 2013

Update: Chairman Hensarling Comments on Obama Administration’s Confirmation of $1.7 Billion Taxpayer-Funded Bailout for FHA

Back in February, Chairman Hensarling cautioned that: "If the FHA were a private financial institution, likely somebody would be fired, somebody would be fined, or the institution would find itself in receivership." Instead, he added, "it is merely, and merrily, on its way to becoming the recipient of the next great taxpayer bailout."

Echoing the chairman's warning, later that same month the Government Accountability Office (GAO) added FHA to its 'high risk' list of government programs.

We hate to say we told you so, but reports out this week now clearly show that the FHA is headed for its own billion dollar taxpayer bailout. Here's what they're saying:

Wall Street Journal | FHA, Facing Losses, Likely to Tap Treasury

Critics said the FHA's losses were a sign the government is too heavily involved in housing. "It's time to return the FHA to its traditional mission of helping first-time home buyers and those with low and moderate incomes," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who said the agency had become "the nation's largest subprime lender."

The Hill | FHA may need $1 billion bailout

Concerns about the agency's finances increased a year ago when an independent audit found that the FHA, which has more than $1 trillion worth of loans in its portfolio, had burned through its capital reserves because of bad mortgages, and would probably need federal help.

Washington Times | Rising mortgage defaults may force FHA to request bailout from Treasury: report

...the first-ever bailout for the Depression-era mortgage insurer is a sign of the lingering stress in the housing market and stirred controversy in Congress, where conservatives have called for reforms to make the agency less vulnerable to defaults.

Bloomberg | Federal Housing Administration Said to Take Taxpayer Subsidy

The FHA’s need for aid could spur lawmakers to move more quickly to shrink the agency’s risk and its footprint in the mortgage market. Representative Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who leads the House Financial Services Committee, urged swift passage of his bill to largely limit FHA coverage to first-time borrowers purchasing moderately priced homes.

How Did We Get Here?

While FHA has historically served targeted populations, like first-time homebuyers and credit-worthy low and moderate income Americans, it has strayed far from this historical and well-intentioned goal. Today, FHA can insure loans as high as $729,750. Such a home purchase is far beyond the reach of those truly earning low and moderate incomes. This mission creep has enabled FHA to crowd out its private sector competition and seize control of more than 56% of the mortgage insurance market, all the while leaving homeowners with fewer choices and exposing taxpayers to excessive risk. 

America deserves better than this. Hardworking taxpayers are sick and tired of having to bail out Washington’s failed housing policies, whether it’s the nearly $200 billion bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or a bailout of the FHA. That's why the PATH Act includes critical reforms to right-size the FHA. These reforms include: 
  • Targeting FHA's mission specifically to first-time borrowers (eligible regardless of their income nationwide) and low- and moderate-income borrowers (individuals below 115 percent of area median income [AMI] nationwide, or 150 percent of AMI in high-cost areas.) 
  • Preserving FHA's countercyclical role, enabling it to play an expanded role during a crisis, by allowing it to insure loans to any borrower during established periods of significant credit contraction. 
  • Limiting taxpayer exposure by lowering FHA's maximum insurable loan limit from the current $729,750 to $625,500. 
  • Encouraging greater borrower equity by increasing FHA's minimum down payment requirement from 3.5 to 5 percent for all non-first-time borrowers. 
You can find more information on these and other FHA reforms in our Executive Summary of the PATH Act (.pdf). 
Posted by on September 24, 2013

Chairman Hensarling Op-Ed | September 24, 2013

Pundits and politicians, including President Obama, used the recent anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse to once again blame a lack of government regulations for causing the financial crisis.

The great tragedy of the financial crisis, however, was not that Washington regulations failed to prevent it, but instead that Washington regulations helped lead us into it.

Federal policies designed to expand homeownership in an "off-budget" fashion encouraged lending to people who bought homes they could not afford to keep. Perhaps not surprisingly, a federal government which lives beyond its means tragically encouraged American families to do the same.

One of the most damaging of those initiatives has been the Community Reinvestment Act, which was undertaken with good intentions but is today in need of repeal. Proponents of CRA-like mandates have maintained that only a small portion of subprime mortgage originations are related to the CRA. However, though they may be small in volume, CRA loan mandates remain large in precedent. They inherently required lending institutions to abandon their traditional underwriting standards to comply with this government mandate. CRA implicitly put the government's "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" on such loans.

Along with CRA, no one should forget the central role Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac played in sparking the crisis. These private companies were awarded monopoly powers by Congress in exchange for meeting certain affordable housing goals. Fannie and Freddie exploited their congressionally-granted charters to borrow at discounted rates and ultimately dominated the secondary mortgage market. They wildly inflated their balance sheets and personally enriched their executives via implicit (now explicit) government backing – not to mention via the "cooked books" that allowed politically-connected executives to make off like bandits with what their regulator described as "ill-gotten bonuses in the hundreds of millions of dollars."

Given their prominence in the market, investors and underwriters came to believe that if Fannie or Freddie touched a loan, it was safe, sound, secure and most importantly, "sanctioned" by the government.

More than 70% of subprime and Alt-A mortgages that led to the crisis were backed by Fannie and Freddie, the FHA and other taxpayer-backed programs. If anyone is looking for a root cause of the financial crisis, this is it.

Yet, despite the inherent dangers in such transactions, Fannie and Freddie's congressional supporters encouraged them to "roll the dice a little bit more". Well, they did, and the result was the mother of all bailouts – nearly $200 billion – and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

But when it came time for Congress to address the crisis, the Democrats produced a bill that failed to tackle its root causes. Nowhere in the Dodd-Frank Act's 2,300 pages will you find one single reform to Fannie or Freddie. Instead, Dodd-Frank leaves them in a state of perpetual federal conservatorship. As a result, hardworking taxpayers today back nine of every 10 new residential mortgage securitizations and taxpayers are on the hook for more than $5 trillion in mortgage guarantees.

What you will find in Dodd-Frank, however, are provisions that make bailouts permanent, enshrine "too big to fail" into law and give Washington bureaucrats more power, more authority and more control over personal financial decisions that Americans should be making for themselves. Dodd-Frank will prove to be every bit as far-reaching in its harmful consequences as the Democrats' radical plan for "fixing" the nation's healthcare system – Obamacare.

While Democrats were voting for Dodd-Frank and its 400 new regulations, they were voting against the alternative put forth by House Republicans: the Consumer Protection and Regulatory Enhancement Act. Our proposal would have ended taxpayer bailouts and restored market discipline. It would have put the GSEs on the path away from taxpayer reliance and transitioned our secondary mortgage market toward free market competition and it would have streamlined the complex regulatory structure for enhanced enforcement of consumer protection laws and safety and soundness.

So five years after the crisis and three years after the passage of Dodd-Frank, where do we go from here?

For starters, both parties and the president should work together to create a sustainable housing finance system, end the bailout of Fannie and Freddie and phase out their failed business model. That's exactly what House Republicans have proposed to do with the PATH Act, which stands for Protecting American Taxpayers and Homeowners.

The PATH Act passed the Financial Services Committee in July. It creates a sustainable housing finance system by limiting government control of the mortgage market, putting private capital at the center of the mortgage system and giving homebuyers more informed choices about their mortgage options. The PATH Act includes reforms to save the FHA from insolvency and preserves the 30-year fixed rate mortgage. In fact, for the first time the FHA would be specifically required to offer a 30-year fixed rate insurance product under the PATH Act.

The PATH Act is our best chance to create a housing finance system that is sustainable for homeowners, taxpayers and our economy.
Posted by on September 22, 2013

Monetary Policy & Trade Subcommittee Vice Chairman Bill Huizenga (Twitter | Facebook) delivers this week's Sunday Video Message on the five year anniversary of the financial crisis. 
Posted by on September 17, 2013
Last week, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee questioned the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Inspector General, David Montoya, about reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in the department’s housing programs. All totaled, the latest IG report identified more than $770 million in questionable costs and included recommendations for putting $739.5 million in HUD funds to better use.

In the above exchange with Rep. Ann Wagner, however, the IG raised another concern: the egregious length of time it takes HUD to implement audit findings. In one case related to now largely prohibited seller-funded downpayment assistance, Mr. Montoya said HUD delayed implementation of IG recommendations for nearly a decade, impacting the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund on the order of $15 billion.

The MMI Fund (the “fund” as Mr. Montoya calls it in the clip) is at the center of the FHA’s business, backing more than $1 trillion worth of home mortgages on behalf of American taxpayers. An actuarial report released by HUD in November 2012 revealed the MMI Fund had a negative economic value of $16.3 billion, dropping the fund’s capital ratio – a measure of the fund’s health – below the 2 percent minimum required by law. That decline in the health of the MMI Fund also prompted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to add FHA to its list of "high risk" government programs earlier this year. 

This level of waste, fraud, and abuse at HUD reinforces everything our committee has been saying about the FHA for some time now – it is a high risk to taxpayers, it is a high risk to the mortgage insurance market and it represents a high risk to our economy. That's why reforming the FHA is a critical step in the path to a sustainable housing finance system. Toward this end, the PATH Act would make FHA operate more like a private mortgage insurer, requiring it to issue quarterly financial reports based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and maintain a capital reserve ratio of at least 4 percent – up from the 2 percent currently required. 

Posted by on September 16, 2013
The House is in session Tuesday through Friday this week and the committee has two scheduled hearings. Be sure to check back here on the Bottom Line Blog -- and sign up for our email updates -- for more information throughout the week. 

Here's what's happening: 

On Wednesday at 10 a.m. the Capital Markets & GSEs Subcommittee will examine the SEC's money market rule proposal. 

And on Thursday the full committee holds a legislative hearing on The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002. That hearing also beings at 10 a.m. 

Both hearings will be held in 2128 Rayburn HOB and will be streamed live on our website.
Posted by on September 15, 2013

Financial Institutions & Consumer Credit Subcommittee Vice Chairman Sean Duffy (Twitter | Facebook) delivers this week's Sunday Video Message on our recent hearing with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray and his own legislation to curb the CFPB's collection of Americans' personal financial data.
Posted by on September 12, 2013

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Deputy Director Steve Antonakes appeared before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit in July to discuss the CFPB’s data collection efforts. Below are just a few of the simple questions Mr. Antonakes was unprepared to answer: 
  • How much data is the CFPB collecting and from how many individual consumers? 
  • Does the CFPB have agreements with any foreign countries to provide them access to Americans' financial data? 
  • How many third-parties have access to the CFPB's data? 
  • Is CFPB data searchable by personally identifiable information? 
  • Has the CFPB conducted a privacy impact assessment on the data they collect? 
  • How many people have access to the CFPB's consumer complaint database? 
At today's hearing on the CFPB's Semi-Annual Report, Chairman Hensarling played the above video of Mr. Antonakes's repeated offers to respond to those and other important questions for Director Richard Cordray.

We're still waiting on the answers. 
Posted by on September 09, 2013
Congress is back from the August District Work Period and in the Financial Services Committee, we're getting straight to work with three hearings in three days. Be sure to check back here on the Bottom Line Blog -- and sign up for our email updates -- for more information throughout the week. 

Here's what's happening: 

Leading off the week on Tuesday the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a 10 a.m. hearing on reducing waste, fraud and abuse in housing programs as they examine the recommendations made by the HUD inspector general. 

On Wednesday afternoon the Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee looks at the lessons of central banking we've learned in the Fed's 100 year history. The hearing begins at 2 p.m. 

Last but not least, Thursday the full committee will hear from CFPB Director Richard Cordray at 9 a.m. on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report. The director of the CFPB is required by law to appear before the committee on a semi-annual basis to deliver a report on the CFPB. 

All three hearings will be held in 2128 Rayburn HOB and will be streamed live on our website.
Posted by on September 09, 2013

By Kerri Ann Panchuk at Housing Wire 

Stepping in front of a hometown audience in Dallas, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling captured the local crowd with a simple joke: "Everything is bigger in Texas… except for me," the congressman jested, as he situated his small frame behind a tall podium.

This showing of humility and earthiness warmed up the audience, creating an atmosphere for Hensarling that is far removed from the constant infighting in Washington, D.C.

And despite the congressman’s willingness to make fun of his own stature, Rep. Hensarling’s profile has never been larger. At a time when the housing finance system is being built midflight, Hensarling is leading the House committee that will ultimately decide which bills have a fighting chance to make it to the floor. While he certainly won’t decide the fate of the mortgage finance market alone, he now has the stature to help lead the fight. 

With his soft Texas accent and the professional appearance of a banker, Hensarling serves a part of his state that is far removed from the nation’s major financial centers. Still, he believes the impact of the financial crisis impacted everyone from Washington D.C. to California and every small town and metropolitan area in between. His view of banking is a combination of a small-town banker combined with the savvy of a tenured congressman who has spent his career advocating for and drafting large-scale housing and financial policy.

But the congressman showed up in Dallas for one reason, and one reason only: He believes in housing finance reform and wants to engage in thoughtful, nonpolitical discussions about how to fix both housing and the mortgage finance system. He was in town for a Bipartisan Policy Center forum on housing issues, which took place, at the recently opened George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, in honor of the same president who served while the economy began the long road back from recession.

In his first year as the House Financial Services Committee chair, Hensarling is aggressively pursuing mortgage market reforms at a time when both political parties view it as an essential issue.

Hensarling is often seen as the foil to what he considers establishment economic policies in Washington. More often than not, he is a dissenting voice, battling monetary and housing proposals that he deems too risky for the financial markets and taxpayers.

If you catch Hensarling leading a House Financial Services Committee hearing, he has a reputation for being a financial policy wonk and for respectfully questioning everything from the effectiveness of infinite quantitative easing to the logic of Dodd-Frank in an environment where, in his opinion, too-big-to-fail still lingers. 

The congressman spent the past few years pushing back against aspects of the Dodd-Frank Act — the Qualified Mortgage rule and the Qualified Residential Mortgage standard — claiming that the regulations force lenders to tighten the lending spigots, even for the safest of borrowers. 

Sitting down with HousingWire on the fringes of the Dallas forum for an exclusive interview, Hensarling remained candid about his ongoing fight to make housing reform a top priority for the House, Senate and president.

“Washington has gone from one extreme to the other,” said Hensarling. “We’ve essentially gone from: if you can fog a mirror, you can qualify for a home to if you can’t pay cash for a home, you can’t buy a property. I clearly exaggerate to make a point.” 

But, the congressman added, “those are not standards to be made in Washington, so market discipline is ultimately going to be a more important regulator.” 

Despite his role being quite large in the grand scheme of Washington, Hensarling remains a mystery to a certain degree. He self-identifies as a free market and free enterprise mind, but his interpretation of those labels may vary from the mainstream media’s perceptions of Hensarling and his House colleagues. 

The Wall Street Journal recently cited an old Hensarling quote to convey the uniqueness of his business philosophy. According to the WSJ, Hensarling once said he is “pro-free enterprise, not pro-business.” At the time, the statement was construed as a condemnation of the postbailout society that allowed mega banks to hook taxpayers into excessive bailouts without ever having to face the dire consequences of selfcorrecting markets. 

In person, Hensarling expresses this dichotomy well. The congressman essentially wants markets to succeed, regulations to be simmered down and banks to be held responsible, not by the auspices of government, but by the risk of failure.

Not only does he not view Dodd-Frank as an ineffective strategy in achieving these ends, he views the Basel-III regulatory framework that was created to shore up banks’ capital reserves as somewhat lacking. 

“Capital and liquidity standards were insufficient,” Hensarling said of the pre-crisis era. “But that does not make the case that they need to be more complex, which I fear Basel has done.” 

While Hensarling spent the first part of the year more focused on comprehensive housing legislation, he expects to conduct hearings on too-big-to-fail banks in the second half of 2013, with legislation to follow.

Reign as chairman

The veteran congressman’s genuine interest in housing and financial services secured him the top role on the House Financial Services Committee. He’s viewed from afar as someone who dives into the weeds on financial issues, all the while remaining far removed from the caricatures and media-created personalities that often emerge from Washington power circles. 

When HousingWire caught up with Hensarling, he had just come off stage after delivering his speech at the Bush center.

He was in determined mood, at ease with the subject area at hand.

When it comes to bipartisan collaboration, Hensarling welcomes the opportunity to hold discussions that revolve around policy, as opposed to politics. And while he eschews the gridlocked discussions that pop up in D.C., he wishes issues surrounding the Dodd-Frank Act, the big banks and the mortgage finance system had garnered more political attention years ago.

“It’s maybe not getting as much attention as Obamacare and the NSA, but it’s gaining a lot of attention. And this is important because six years after the precipitous housing decline, five years after the economic crisis and three years after Dodd-Frank, no one has acted,” he said.

And if questions linger about how Hensarling will lead the committee, take a look at his own words: “One of the maxims I try to live by is: ‘If in doubt, act.’” 

And acting is just what the chairman is doing. In his first several months at the House Financial Services Committee helm, Hensarling co-sponsored and rolled out one of the most significant pieces of proposed housing legislation since the bubble burst back in 2008. 

The Protecting American Taxpayers and Homeowners Act, otherwise known as PATH, came into being this year. 

The bill, which is supported by fellow congressmen Scott Garrett, R-N.J., Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., proposes a five-year phase out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with the ultimate goal of providing homeowners with more lending options in a mortgage market fueled by private capital. 

The legislation aims to achieve these goals by codifying the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s proposed single-securitization platform, which will eventually serve as a model for a new secondary mortgage market that investors can hopefully hang their hats on.

“I think clearly the act is gaining momentum and a lot of attention,” the chairman told HousingWire.

Hensarling’s Dallas speech allowed him to kill two birds with one stone: He was able to reconnect with constituents during his break from Congress, while also delving deeper into the PATH Act, explaining its nuances and addressing concerns raised by critics.

The largest concern is whether the complete elimination of the GSEs, or a wider government backstop, would effectively kill the 30-year mortgage.

Hensarling says the answer to that question is: “No.” 

During his speech, the chairman claimed Section 213 of the PATH Act makes room for the continuance of a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.

Reviewing a copy of the bill, it shows that the drafters, who codified plans for a single-securitization platform to get the future mortgage market going, outlined the mandatory inclusion of a 30-year, fixed-interest-rate mortgage under the section identifying qualified mortgage securities.

Speaking in Dallas, Hensarling said that based on the terms of the bill, the 30-year, fixed-rate product is not only preserved, but he believes the system created would encourage the private sector to fill in the market with an assortment of products, some of which may be better than the 30-year FRM when considering the needs of individual borrowers.

As for the five-year transition away from the dominance of Fannie and Freddie, Hensarling believes it’s more than possible to get rid of the housing giants within that timeframe. 

“It’s not an arbitrary number,” he said. “It was one that was devised by speaking to many people involved in housing finance and in our security markets who have labored over this issue,” Hensarling added. “Some would say you could do it in as few as three; some say you might need seven years. A couple of outliers might say 10.” 

Most of the House Financial Services Committee believes the five- to seven-year timeframe is an appropriate estimate for how long it will take to wind down the GSEs. 

One person who gained Hensarling’s unbridled praise is acting Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Ed DeMarco. The FHFA’s proposal to create a single-securitization platform that can help wind down the GSEs, while whetting investor appetite for a new secondary market, are incorporated into the PATH Act.

“Kudos goes to Ed DeMarco,” Hensarling said. “He has done an incredibly fantastic job at FHFA, vitally important work.”

“There were deficiencies in how the market worked prior to the financial crisis and we have attempted to address a lot of those in the PATH Act. We have spent a lot of time working with people at FHFA to understand what they were developing, how they were developing it, and assessing the costs and benefits,” the chairman explained.

So is the plan the right one?

“I think we got it right,” responded Hensarling, “but that’s one of the reasons why we have a five- to seven-year transition in this bill.”

Still, the chairman remains a pragmatist at heart, which is not unusual when your congressional career is spent serving on one of the more contentious, yet essential House committees.

One of the reasons for his attendance at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s housing forum was the opportunity it provided for him to address an independent crowd that is more interested in policy than political infighting.

“I am happy to sit down and negotiate in good faith with anybody,” the chairman said.

But he’s unwavering in his belief that whatever the final solution, the mortgage finance system must be reformed.

“Too often the voices that you hear are the voices who believe it is never time for reform,” Hensarling explained. “And those are the only voices that have to be ignored in this debate.” 

An area of debate that Hensarling has managed to stay away from is the question of whether today’s housing recovery is market-driven or a potential bubble fueled by the Federal Reserve’s mortgage-bond purchases.

“It’s a hard question to answer,” the chairman replied. “Like many others, I am concerned about quantitative easing, or QE infinity, that the Fed is currently engaged in. I have shared my thoughts with Chairman Bernanke both publicly and privately on the issue.”

Hensarling says the Fed is ultimately the driver of interest rates.

Yet, he’s not laying all of the blame at the Fed’s feet, and readily acknowledges Bernanke as a man he greatly respects.

Outside Fed activities, Hensarling says the market is facing other disruptions, caused mainly by what he considers misguided economic policies.

“I fear that under the policies of this administration, 1.5% to 2% GDP growth is the new norm,” he said pensively. “Historically, it has been twice that; and I think with the right public policy, it could easily be 4% to 5%.”

The solution, he says, would involve a new slate of policies on taxation, regulation and litigation.

His greatest fears stem from all the regulations being promulgated under the Dodd-Frank Act. 

“Those regulations come in two categories: those that create uncertainty and those that create certain economic harm,” Hensarling said. “I fear those regulations are keeping lenders on the sidelines for fear of what the rules have already said or what the rules may say.”

As for what he feels about the Qualified Mortgage rule outlined by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Qualified Residential Mortgage standard for risk-retention under Dodd-Frank, Hensarling is wary of both.

“Washington should not be setting these arbitrary rules,” he said. “It wasn’t that Washington failed to quell the last crisis; Washington to a great degree caused the last crisis.”

As an example, Hensarling addressed the new 43% debt-to-income ratio requirement for qualified mortgages under the lending rules.

“The decision of DTI ought to be made basically by willing buyers and sellers,” Hensarling said. “And what we try to do in the PATH Act is assure there is increased transparency all the way down to the loan level data.”

But new regulations are not Hensarling’s only area of focus. Under his leadership, the House Financial Services Committee honed in on the Federal Housing Administration, questioning the agency’s financial viability and the potential for future government bailouts.

Using the tentacles of the PATH Act, Hensarling wants to see the FHA return to its core mission of providing housing opportunities to first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate income families. 

While in Dallas, he publicly questioned the agency’s willingness to insure mortgages valued as high as $729,750. “I have a number of towns in my district where I would be very surprised if there was a home on the tax rolls at $729,000,” the congressman noted incredulously.

“Everybody claims that the FHA is supposed to serve first-time homebuyers and low to- moderate income people.”

Within the PATH Act, more conservative measures eliminating these high caps were deployed in an attempt to redirect the FHA’s focus back to first-time homebuyers and affordable housing, Hensarling explained. 

Second-quarter data from the National Association of Realtors shows the median existing single-family home price hit $203,500 in the second quarter of 2013. 

However, a few select cities feature escalated prices, such as San Francisco, where the median home price for a single-family detached home hit the $1 million mark in 2Q, based on MLS data from the research division of Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffle Real Estate.

Either way, the chairman’s goal for the agency is simple: He wants FHA fiscally sustainable and classified as such using actuarially sound methods.

The path home

Hensarling’s speech in Dallas verified his ongoing belief that the government failed when drafting housing policies in decades past.

He points to Fannie and Freddie, viewing them as two of the major culprits in the financial crisis, while still acknowledging not everyone assigns as much blame to the GSEs.

While others are debating how much lift housing should get from the government, Hensarling sees the artificial lifts built into the system as the cause of housing’s dramatic demise in 2008.

“At its core, the housing market is not fundamentally different from any other asset,” the chairman told the crowd. “It is not immune to the laws of supply and demand.”

Furthermore, the Republican congressman believes housing — like equities — should be subject to market discipline as opposed to government manipulation.

Hensarling sees a future without the GSEs as real progress, a view upsetting to mortgage finance reformers who still see a need for a fairly robust market backstop. 

In his speech at the Dallas forum, the chairman told the audience that the U.S. is virtually alone in the world when it comes to having government-sponsored enterprises and direct federal intervention in the housing market. As for all the low-interest-rate policies and other factors that overinflated the pre-2008 market, the congressman says it’s important for market analysts to finally recognize that lower interest rates and the seemingly better deals stemming from the existence of the government housing agencies don’t always equate to cheaper housing options, especially when principal amounts shoot up after the market becomes heavily stimulated.

Hensarling’s PATH Act is designed to accomplish three key objectives: to wind down the GSEs and their influence in the market, increase competition for mortgage products and provide consumers with more choices.

Despite currying some favor for taking on such an aggressive bill, Hensarling is still fielding ongoing criticism from the mortgage industry, with some industry professionals wary when it comes to parts of the bill.

Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, at one point said the bill provided a comprehensive, yet ultimately inviable proposal to wind down the GSEs and privatize the mortgage system.

“If fully implemented, the PATH would lead to significantly higher mortgage rates, particularly in tough economic times, and would put 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage loans out of reach for most Americans,” Zandi is quoted as saying. 

“If the PATH becomes law, the FHA would account for no more than one-fifth of the mortgage market on average through the business cycle. The rest of the market would receive no government support.”

Hensarling is publicly battling claims about the 30-year, FRM being at risk, saying the product is safe and fits squarely within the PATH statute.

Mortgage Bankers Association CEO David Stevens also gave the PATH Act somewhat mixed reviews, citing fears over too many changes at the FHA.

“MBA has serious concerns with the implications of such a significant policy change for the price availability of mortgage credit through the FHA program,” Stevens warned.

“Even if it were well constructed, such a change could significantly reduce the number of lenders willing to participate in FHA, given the increased risks to the lender.”

On the other hand, Tom Deutsch, executive director of the American Securitization Forum, gave the act rave reviews.

“ASF is strongly supportive in the near term of ratcheting down the federal government’s involvement in the U.S. housing finance system through gradual reductions in loan limits, appropriate increases in guarantee fees and the GSEs’ issuing material amounts of their securities that expose investors to credit risk of the underlying mortgages,” Deutsch explained when discussing his position.

Hensarling has had several weeks to sift through feedback from proponents and critics of the plan.

He understands the various viewpoints, but remains committed to the idea that something must be done.

“I want to see those who are involved in housing finance re-examine the issue of the GSEs and their equivalents,” Hensarling said. “Take a good hard look — have they served us well? I don’t think so.”

Hensarling sees ongoing and excessive reliance on government backstops or guarantees as concerning. And excessiveness in the system is evident whether you’re looking at the setup of the GSEs or the too-big-to-fail banks, the chairman suggested.

“There is something still fundamentally wrong in America when you have some institutions that are seen as too big to fail, and others too small to matter,” Hensarling added. “What I seek to do is create market discipline. There is no greater discipline than the appearance and reality of your own money at risk.” 

His overall end-goal is to ensure less taxpayer money is at risk. Yet, Hensarling is well aware that other forces are at play in the market. For starters, the economy is recovering at a tepid pace, while many of the young are underemployed or without a job. Not to mention, student loan debt levels have reached $1 trillion, restricting spending levels within the first-time homebuyer segment. 

While Hensarling has not addressed the student loan debt situation directly, he views it as another consequence of excesses built into the system.

“I do think Washington, again, has artificially inflated the price [of education],” Hensarling said. “And speaking to my colleagues who serve on the education committee — too often we are finding more dollars spent on brick and mortar and administration, and less money spent on quality teaching. It’s not an area I claim to have expertise in, but clearly the rapidly rising cost of education has an impact on other markets.”

When Hensarling heads back to Washington for a busy fall term, he’s confident momentum gained from the drafting and committee passage of the PATH Act will pave the way for a constructive discussion in Congress. 

To improve the future mortgage finance system — especially the secondary market — Hensarling notes that “transparency” is key.

“What we’re trying to do in the PATH Act is ensure there is increased transparency all the way down to the loan-level data,” the chairman said. “The MBS market relative to other markets is still a fairly new market, so there are still improvements that can be made when it comes to standardization and transparency.”

But getting members of Congress on the same page could prove a challenge in a divided legislature. Hensarling’s bill — though attracting significant attention in the mainstream press — is just one of a few legislative proposals dealing with housing finance reform. 

He makes no predictions about whether the PATH Act will pass or eventually be combined with other legislation. But for Hensarling, it’s a place to start. Or at least a path forward.

Posted by on August 28, 2013

Chairman Hensarling Op-Ed | August 27, 2013

Soon we will mark the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis that wrecked our economy, left millions of Americans unemployed and from which we have yet to recover. 

From a public policy perspective, the great tragedy of the financial crisis was not that Washington failed to prevent it, but that Washington helped lead us into it. The crisis largely started with a noble intention: Every American should own a home. The result was that well-meaning but misguided policies — principally the “Affordable Housing Goals” of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — either strong-armed or enticed financial institutions into loaning money to people to buy homes they sadly couldn’t afford. In fact, over 70 percent of the nontraditional mortgages that led to the crisis were backed by Fannie, Freddie and other taxpayer-subsidized programs. 

In typical fashion, Washington responded to the crisis by passing a 2,000-page bill that did more to exploit the crisis than solve it.

Today, because it did not solve the problem, taxpayers have been forced to pay for the mother of all bailouts — nearly $200 billion for Fannie and Freddie. That’s unimaginable.

Today, taxpayers remain on the hook for more than $5 trillion in mortgage guarantees, roughly $45,000 per American family. That’s unconscionable.

Today, the federal government has a virtual monopoly on the housing finance system, enabling Washington elites — similar to those at the IRS — to control who can qualify for a mortgage. That’s unfair.

Americans deserve better.

We deserve a system that protects current and future homeowners so every American who works hard and plays by the rules can have opportunities and choices to buy homes they can actually afford to keep.

We deserve a system that protects hardworking taxpayers so they never again have to bail out big government-sponsored corporations like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or even those who irresponsibly bought expensive homes they couldn’t afford.

We deserve a system that finally breaks the Washington-induced destructive cycle of boom, bust and bailout. 

That’s why the House Financial Services Committee, which I chair, recently approved the PATH Act — the Protecting American Taxpayers and Homeowners Act. The PATH Act creates a sustainable housing finance system by limiting government control, putting private capital at the center of the mortgage system and giving homebuyers more informed choices about their mortgage options. 

With the PATH Act, we end the bailout of Fannie and Freddie and phase out their failed taxpayer-backed business model. 

The PATH Act also protects the Federal Housing Administration, which is so overextended that it is heading for its own bailout. Today, FHA can use taxpayers to insure mortgages for millionaires and homes valued as high as $729,750. We return FHA to its traditional mission: serving first-time homebuyers and those with low and moderate incomes, as well as ensuring it will be able to insure loans to any qualified borrower if ever faced with another economic crisis.

Finally, the PATH Act removes artificial barriers to private capital to attract investment and encourage innovation. 

Others, including some who profit from the status quo, have discussed different reform plans. I welcome them, but all of us must be careful. We cannot allow a plan to become law that simply puts Fannie and Freddie in the federal witness protection program, gives them cosmetic surgery and new identities, then releases them upon an unsuspecting public. We can no longer allow Wall Street investment firms to offload their credit risks on Main Street taxpayers under the guise of promoting homeownership.

No, America needs real reform and a healthier economy. The best housing program is not a subsidy, guarantee or tax credit; it is a good job in a growing economy. The PATH Act will strengthen our economy. It is our path toward real reform and a truly sustainable housing finance system that’s built to last.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, represents the 5th Congressional District and is the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He may be contacted through 

View online at The Dallas Morning News here.