Since his announcement, there has been an outpouring of understandable outrage at DeMarco for this nonsensical decision. But that outrage is misdirected. It’s time to move our ire away from one man blinded by ideology and political ambition, and put the blame where it belongs, on the president. It’s the president who has allowed DeMarco to hold on to the responsibilities he is so clearly unable to execute. And despite the Administration’s deflections, there is a clear path to removing DeMarco. What’s lacking is the conviction.
When Congress took control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it established FHFA as the mortgage giants’ conservator and gave FHFA and its director a simple but serious mandate: preserve taxpayer assets and prevent foreclosures. On both basic counts, DeMarco has willfully failed to execute the basic duties he accepted when he was bureaucratically elevated to the position of acting director, and he should be removed for failure to do his job.
Resetting mortgages to fair market value to avoid foreclosures, also called “principal reduction,” has the support of dozens of economists from across the political spectrum and is a tool that a growing number of servicers and investors are implementing. It’s simple to see why the idea has been gaining so much traction. Being underwater is the number one predictor of default, while restructuring debt saves homes, saves assets and is the closest thing to a silver bullet on the housing, jobs and economic crises.
DeMarco’s own agencies’ numbers say targeted principal reduction will save homes and save taxpayers anywhere from $1 billion to more than $3 billion dollars. His refusal incomprehensibly flies directly in the face of reason, facts and good old common sense. DeMarco is not just saying no to this critical program. He is saying no to housing recovery, no to taxpayers, and no to homeowners, families and neighborhoods. And crucially, he has said no to executing the basic responsibilities of his job as regulator and conservator of the taxpayers’ assets Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Clearly, it’s time for him to go.
If the president is unwilling to fire Mr. DeMarco for just cause – of which there is ample evidence – he can still remove him. In the days since DeMarco’s announcement, news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, have cited the enacting statute for FHFA and opined that DeMarco can only be replaced by existing FHFA staff. But the statutory language lays out a process for a Senate-confirmed, permanent director. DeMarco is neither, and can be removed from this job and replaced without these restrictions. Another person with an active Senate confirmation or another FHFA staff person can replace DeMarco as Acting Director. The problem is not one of law, it’s one of will.
It’s easy to paint DeMarco as the villain in this story of tragic inaction. But at this point, that characterization isn’t productive and certainly isn’t bringing relief to struggling homeowners. No, after almost a year of growing calls for him to do the logical thing and four months since the irrefutable math showing the benefits of principal reduction became public, the responsibility is squarely on the president.
On Thursday Housing Secretary Sean Donovan stated, “We believe, the president believes, that the decision that Ed DeMarco made is wrong.” That’s not enough. President Obama has the power and obligation to remove DeMarco. In failing to do so, it’s President Obama who must face our anger and frustration for his inaction.
Liz Ryan Murray is the policy director of National People’s Action.