On debt ceilings and conforming loan caps

July 11, 2011

“The dollar is our currency, but your problem.”

–Former Treasury Secretary John Connally

As the deadline nears for raising the US debt ceiling, the advocates of extend and pretend are attacking anyone and everyone who says that the federal debt ceiling should not be extended without extracting serious spending cuts. The Democrats in Congress see the proverbial writing on the wall, namely that 80 years of borrow and spend as the national ethic is about to end. Unfortunately neither the Democrats nor Republicans in Washington can see little else.

The fight over the budget is more than a fiscal debate, but also suggests the death knell of the two-party system in America. The socialist tendency we know as the Democratic Party is, to paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, the party of government. Prior to 1932, the Democratic Party was only marginally competitive in national politics. From FDR on through to today, the Democrats built their political fortunes on ever-increasing public spending and a corrupt relationship with the private and public sector unions.

Many Democratic political careers and institutions are now under attack in Washington as the Treasury is nearing the ends of its ability to borrow. Consider that current tax revenues just about cover transfer payments, where Washington taxes one American and subsidizes another. This leaves all of the other operations of government funded by debt. The reason for the conflict over the debt ceiling is obvious — except for members of the Democratic party and their surrogates in the big media.

“Bill Clinton was an Eisenhower Republican, but Obama is a more of a Nixon Republican, betraying core liberal beliefs on many issues,” notes economics writer and former Treasury official Bruce Bartlett, who sees President Barack Obama eventually cutting a spending deal with Republicans with less “smoke and mirrors” than President Clinton would never have accepted.

Back in April, we talked about why a delay in raising the debt ceiling is not the end of the world (see “Default, debt ceilings and democracy”). If it takes a financial crisis to change the fiscal behavior of the US, then so be it. You need courage to say no to more debt, but it is easy to borrow. The people of the US have the right and even the obligation to withhold approval of further debt issuance unless real changes are made in federal spending.

The Democratic party headed by Obama is making common cause with the large banks and corporations in the US to raise the debt ceiling without making significant cuts in federal spending. Big companies hate spending cuts, but don’t really worry about things like inflation. This quarter’s earnings is all that matters.

Ironically enough, the pro-democracy movement in American politics is now defended by the Republican Party, which finds itself almost forced to become more populist with each passing day. This is an uncomfortable position for established members of the GOP, many of whom are functionally indistinguishable from their Democratic peers on fiscal issues. With each election, though, the fiscally conservative tendency among conservatives is coming to dominate the Republican leadership. Even mainstream conservatives such as John Boehner cannot hold back more radical fiscal and social agendas of the GOP.

As the two institutional political parties wrestle over national spending, and paying attention only to each other, the US economy is entering a new and potentially dangerous period of deflation. The continued process of de-leveraging in the financial sector is causing banks to shrink and credit availability to dry up. And the government is about to make things a lot worse by allowing the conforming limit for loans sold by banks to federal housing agencies like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to fall dramatically.

After September 30, 2011, the maximum loan limit for single family homes in San Diego, CA, will fall from  $729,000 to $483,000 or to the pre-July 2007 levels. What this means is that the amount of mortgage financing available to markets all over the US is going to drop dramatically. While there are many markets where there will be little or no change, the markets most affected are also the areas where banks have the most exposure to future credit losses, the east and west coasts in particular.

“These housing markets are going to get clubbed to death like baby seals,” said one mortgage market veteran who assembled a list of the counties where the conforming loan limit is likely to drop the most.  The impact of this change is already being felt in real estate markets around the nation, especially in markets such as Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles and Southern California. The maximum loan limit for Fairfax County, VA, dropped from $729,000 to just over $600,000.

The impending decrease in the conforming loan limit will accelerate the drop in home prices this year, adding fuel to the fires of deflation. Even as President Obama and the Democrats draw a line in the sand against spending cuts, the inattention of the White House to accelerating deflation in the housing market is creating a new crisis.

The Republicans welcome crisis as a means to destroy the Democrats as a national political force, but at what price?  The Democrats are resisting budget cuts, and in doing so only give the GOP the crisis that they seek. By the time the 2012 election cycle begins in earnest, for President Obama and both political parties, raising the debt ceiling will be the least of our problems.



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The new loan limits will be a non-event. There are plenty of banks with balance sheet waiting to fill the lending gap, and private capital in the form of REITs are finally going to see some benefit from a less intrusive government lending policy. If we can’t accept this eventuality then we have zero chance of a smaller government.

Posted by DavidAkre | Report as abusive

It is not true at all that the Democrats are resisting budget cuts. They have already agreed to well over a trillion dollars of cuts. But Republicans fight significant cuts in the highly bloated areas, such as defense spending, which could easily be cut 25 to 50% without hurting our defense capabilities at all. Instead they want additional cuts in vital areas, cuts that will impair our ability to recover financially.

Since Democrats have agreed to so many cuts, I do not see why the Republicans do not allow some increases in taxes. There is no good economic argument showing a benefit to keeping taxes as low as they are now. When taxes were much, much higher with marginal rates of 65% to 90%, it was possible to stimulate the economy with tax cuts. But they got about as low as they reasonably could go under Clinton. Virtually every economist who has looked at this believes that the Bush cuts were injurious to our economy.

Posted by freud101 | Report as abusive

Honesty is the best policy-the dems aren’t resisting cuts?
Our National debt is now 25% of TOTAL world debt and doesn’t include $10s of Trillions in IOUs for unfunded entitlements, massive state problems, loan defaults galore, etc etc! We have a moral obligation to tackle our debt right here and right now! Civil unrest is right around the corner and will cost us dearly-socially & financially! Takes a crisis for people to change most the time-we’re there! If we plan to extend the debt $2 Trillion and then cut 2 Trillion in the next 10 years-well, you get the picture! Big government is the problem, not the answer! Our current debt is 100% of US GDP add another 2 trillion and were in the same club as Greece-only we bring down the rest of the globe too-talk about selfish!

Posted by DrJJJJ | Report as abusive

Note: Greenspan and Volker both said recently: there’s no substitute for deep spending cuts for years folks FYI! Taxes increases will be part of life too-we’ve waited too long and it doesn’t matter who’s at fault really!

Posted by DrJJJJ | Report as abusive

I suppose if I had one question for you, Chris, I would be interested in knowing if the decrease in the conforming loan limit is or was maybe some trade-off as I’ve noticed the Mortgage loan lobby was busy stumping for their assessment of what qualifies as a QRM.

Would this be the case, or how is that lobbying coming along?

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

Laster, great question.

Posted by seattlesh | Report as abusive

Another millionaire talking head that doesn’t like people who have worked all of their lives, and now depend on Soc. Sec. He wants us all to just die…
Vitriol and hate…. that’s all Americans know….

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive

“The people of the US have the RIGHT and even the OBLIGATION to withhold approval of further debt issuance unless real changes are made in federal spending.” (there have been no words written that better sum up the entire state of things.)

But maybe not the INTELLIGENCE to know what the f is really going on to do something about it.

Now we are about to find out if the ‘people of the US’ care to show they are (or can be) in control or not. Can they overcome their collective ignorance of the true state of the union to take charge of the meltdown coming? Or will the ‘money’ class who is getting set for panic continue to rule? Better turn off your American Idol sedative Americans and pick up the WSJ if you can still read…

Time for revolution. Change is coming.

Posted by McBurney | Report as abusive

Boy do I live in a different reality. From my perspective the budget crisis has more to do with Bush era tax cuts than anything Obama has done. Republican stonewalling is more about crashing Obama’s hopes for reelection than fiscal prudence. “…but at what cost”.

Recession is a looming problem and it’s not time to belt tighten when the stimulus money has just run out. All sides need to compromise and that means cuts to entitlements as well as more revenue.

Here’s what I mean: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/ 11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html  ?choices=grx8p673

Posted by LEEDAP | Report as abusive


Posted by minipaws | Report as abusive

I severely doubt the debt ceiling has much relationship to the max loan on houses in Poughkeepsie. What we really need to do is cut all Federal programs(payrolls, handouts, or subsidies)by 25% today. No exceptions. See how much support you’ll get for that version of reality on either side of the ideological aisle.

Posted by Woltmann | Report as abusive

I cannot believe that Obama, the man that is suppose to protect the American people is now using scare tactics and threating the American people with their social security checks. You go right ahead and do this and watch we the people go absolutely crazy. How dare you use scare tactics and threaten with social security. Your trying to shove what you want down our throats just like you did with medical reform. We need some reform alright within our government starting with you,Obama. Threatening U.S. American forces with their checks. That looks real good while Michelle is on her little campaign to help them.I find it an outrage for you to even say such a thing. The money is there for s.s. myself and everyone I have spoken with are highly ticked off at your statement. You need to raise taxes on the rich like you promised to do. If you would have done this right off the bat I’m sure it would have helped to keep our debt down. You have done nothing but drive this country further in debt and know you want to make the American people pay for it. You are like a spoiled little child. My way or the highway. You are the one who is not willing to compromise. You better think long and hard before you even think about spewing those words out of your mouth again. How dare you, and shame on you Mr.President,SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!You go right ahead and hold those checks and see what happens. If I’m this ticked off you can just imagine what the rest of America is thinking.Never in my life have I ever seen another President use scare tactics and it’s quite disgusting.You make me sick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by byrnie | Report as abusive