James Pethokoukis

Can mortgage relief become a free-lunch stimulus?

August 5, 2010

And while we are on the topic of mortgages, I wrote this piece for Reuters Breakingviews yesterday:

Obama’s August (Housing) Surprise, Part 2

August 5, 2010

The Treasury Department has officially denied it is planning the mother of all mortgage bailouts. And I have no reason to doubt Team Geithner. But of course that assumes that the whole idea was not being cooked up by the White House political team (Rahm and Ax) and not the good folks at Treasury. During the financial reform debate, banking lobbyists continually complained that Geither and Summers had been usurped by R&A in policymaking. And I have gotten zero pushback from the WH. Food for thought. More to come.

An August Surprise from Obama?

August 5, 2010

Main Street may be about to get its own gigantic bailout. Rumors are running wild from Washington to Wall Street that the Obama administration is about to order government-controlled lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to forgive a portion of the mortgage debt of millions of Americans who owe more than what their homes are worth. An estimated 15 million U.S. mortgages – one in five – are underwater with negative equity of some $800 billion. Recall that on Christmas Eve 2009, the Treasury Department waived a $400 billion limit on financial assistance to Fannie and Freddie, pledging unlimited help. The actual vehicle for the bailout could be the Bush-era Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, a sister program to Obama’s loan modification effort. HARP was just extended through June 30, 2011.