WASHINGTON - Support is growing on several fronts in Washington for mortgage-industry changes and homeowner-assistance programs with broader potential impact than the Bush administration's plan to freeze interest rates on a small percentage of home loans.
So far, the government has pursued modest responses to this year's increase in mortgage defaults and home foreclosures. But a surge in foreclosures, fears of a recession, and an upcoming election are prompting more aggressive proposals from Congress, the Federal Reserve and consumer groups.
The Bush administration favors restraint, with President Bush saying yesterday that "the government should never bail out lenders." Still, the president noted that Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. is working with Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) on a plan to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to finance larger loans, in conjunction with tighter regulation of the government-sponsored companies.
Several housing-related bills had been stalled in Congress for much of the year. On Friday, though, the Senate overwhelmingly approved bills that would allow more government-backed loans to borrowers with weak credit and permit homeowners to receive tax-free mortgage forgiveness from their lenders. The IRS currently taxes any loan forgiveness as income.
Those two measures have bipartisan support and appear likely to be signed off on by the president next year. Other proposals are more divisive.
Today, the Federal Reserve is expected to propose changes for the home-loan market, including requiring those who lend to borrowers with spotty credit to set aside money for property taxes and insurance, and restricting loans that do not require proof of a borrower's income.
However, the Fed's actions are unlikely to diminish Democrats' desire for stricter protections for borrowers.
Several proposals are already being floated:
Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, suggested in a TV interview over the weekend that more government intervention was needed to help borrowers. "Cash is available, and we should use that in larger amounts, as is necessary, to solve the problems of the stress of this," Greenspan said Sunday during an appearance on ABC's
, offering few specifics.
Last week, the Center for American Progress, a liberal public-policy think tank, proposed the creation of a government agency, the Family Foreclosure Rescue Corp., that would help borrowers whose home values have declined to less than that of their mortgages by providing fixed-rate loans and issuing government-insured bonds to pay for the efforts.