This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
A most dastardly deed occurred last Friday when the Obama administration issued a twenty-nine-page policy statement totally abandoning the federal government’s time-honored role in helping Americans achieve the goal of homeownership. Instead of punishing the banks that sabotaged the American ideal of a nation of stakeholders by “securitizing” our homesteads into poker chips to be gambled away in the Wall Street casino, Barack Obama now proposes to turn over the entire mortgage industry to those same banks.
The proposal, originated by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, involves nothing less than a total “winding down” of the eighty-year-old federal housing program, setting instead a new goal of a two-tiered America in which the masses are content to be mere renters of the American Dream. Such a deal for a country where, as the report concedes, “Half of all renters spend more than a third of their income on housing, and a quarter spend more than half.”
This is the same Geithner who during his tenure in the Clinton Treasury Department championed the total deregulation of the then-emerging market in collateralized debt obligations that sliced and diced people’s home mortgages into the toxic securities that created what his new report calls the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Later, as president of the New York Fed, he cheered on the banks as they went hog-wild, conning folks into buying homes they couldn’t afford and stuffing them into the incomprehensible securities that form the rot at the core of our bankrupt economy.
This is a made-in-the-US nightmare that we inflicted on the world, thanks to an explosion in those toxic securities brought on by the deregulation that most of the Obama economic brain trust supported when they worked for President Bill Clinton and during the ensuing bubble years when they enriched themselves. As the report admits: “The US is…the only high income country in which securitization plays a major role in housing finance.” Yet instead of ending that practice Obama now calls for more of the same: “The Administration believes the securitization market should continue to play a key role in housing finance.” Indeed, the plan’s goal of eliminating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will dry up the alternative public funding that has provided a source of mortgage support ever since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched Fannie Mae to check the power of the banks over mortgages. Now Obama proposes to eliminate that check and leave would-be homeowners to the tender mercy of the banking giants.
Of course Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also bear responsibility for the meltdown. They had morphed into for-profit enterprises and, just as with the Wall Street firms, the massive bonuses paid out to their top executives were contingent on the value of their stock prices, which in turn were fattened by the sale of those same toxic assets. As the Obama report puts it, “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s profit-maximizing structure undermined their public mission.” What the administration should have proposed is to return the government-sponsored housing agencies to their original function as nonprofit entities supplementing, rather than aping, the practices of greedy bankers.