WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials on Tuesday defended their plan to Congress for ending government control of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, clashing with Democratic senators on whether the change would raise home borrowing costs and neglect lower- income homeowners.
The two finance companies nearly collapsed in the financial crisis 11 years ago and were bailed out at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $190 billion.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, along with regulator Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, testified before the Senate Banking Committee on the plan for returning Fannie and Freddie to private ownership. The companies have become profitable again and have fully repaid their bailouts. Under the plan, their profits would no longer go to the Treasury but would be used to build up their capital bases as a cushion against possible future losses.
Fannie and Freddie together guarantee roughly half of the $10 trillion U.S. home loan market. They don’t make home loans. They buy them from banks and other lenders, and bundle them into securities, guarantee them against default and sell them to Wall Street investors.
Calabria said Fannie and Freddie’s capital must be bulked up “to match their risk profiles” and avoid another bailout. “In their current financial condition, the (companies) are not equipped to withstand a downturn in the housing market,” he testified, adding, “It keeps me up at night.”
The administration initially looked to Congress for legislation to overhaul the housing finance system and return the companies to private shareholders. But Congress hasn’t acted, and now officials say they will take administrative action for the core change.
“The Trump plan will make mortgages more expensive and harder to get,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, the committee’s senior Democrat.