House votes for 'fair-value' budget accounting

The House on Monday passed legislation to require the inclusion of market risk in budget estimates of federal credit programs, a change that would increase the cost estimates of mortgage and student loan programs.

The bill passed 230-165, with the help of 16 Democrats. It's one of three budget process reform measures are considering as the House prepares to consider the latest Republican budget that would slash $5.1 trillion in planned spending over the next decade.

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Under the legislation, H.R. 1872, the costs of direct loans or loan guarantees from the federal government would be calculated using "fair-value" accounting. This method of accounting would include estimates of costs that approximate the price of such loans or guarantees to buyers in the private market.

Additionally, the bill would require that federal budget totals reflect the net impact of the revenue and liabilities of home mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Treasury Department places those entities into conservatorship in 2008, effective putting taxpayers on the hook for their non-performing loans.

Republicans said the bill would make the costs of such programs more transparent when evaluating the federal government's expenses.

"When Washington makes or guarantees a loan, it puts taxpayers at risk," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "It's not about imposing cost. This bill is about recognizing the actual costs of what the government does."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said he doesn't oppose the idea of putting Fannie and Freddie on budget. But he said he opposes the bill because it would require federal student loans to be subject to new accounting rules.

Van Hollen and other Democrats argued that these sorts of changes would make these valuable programs appear more expensive, and thus make them more vulnerable to cuts.

"It's nothing but a dishonest attempt to make worthy government programs appear more costly, so that those ideologically opposed to government and government spending can more easily undermine those very programs," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said.

Democrats also argued that simply changing the budget process wouldn't necessarily help lead to compromise over the nation's spending.

"It's a mistake to suggest that simply tinkering with the budget process will somehow solve our problems," Van Hollen said. "The reason we saw a government shutdown last October had nothing to do with budget process."

Another budget process bill slated for later this week, H.R. 1871, would prohibit automatic inflation increases in budgets to assume higher costs each year.

The White House has stated opposition to both budget process bills.

— Erik Wasson contributed

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