Housing finance reform bill back on the agenda for next week

The Senate Banking Committee is expected to resume consideration next week of a measure to overhaul the mortgage finance system, a panel aide said Tuesday.

The markup was delayed a week ago as panel leaders sought more Democratic votes for a bill that would eliminate government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over five years and shift more of the mortgage risk to the private sector.

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The panel hasn't chosen a specific day.

The bipartisan legislation — crafted by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and panel ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) — had enough votes to gain committee approval but supporters wanted to attract more lawmakers to give it greater momentum heading to the Senate floor.

While most lawmakers agree that Fannie and Freddie need to be scrapped, there are broader concerns that big banks will have an advantage in the mortgage process, that the bill doesn't do enough to help borrowers in underserved areas, that mortgages could get more expensive and that the measure lacks enough affordable housing initiatives. 

Whether those issues have been worked out was unclear. 

Many of the outstanding issues under negotiation are a direct result of new concepts the bill proposes.

Lawmakers are wading into "unchartered waters," said Jerry Howard of the National Association of Home Builders.

While there were some concerns about halting progress on the bill, housing industry experts said that it was better to address the sticking points now instead of waiting for a floor fight.

Bill advocates argue that fixing the measure represents the last major reform needed since the 2008 financial crisis.

As of last week, 12 members — six Democrats and six Republicans — on the 22-member panel supports the bill. 

At the time of the postponement, the bill's authors and industry supporters downplayed the delay, saying they welcomed the additional time to build broader support among several Republicans and Democrats on the panel including GOP Sens. David Vitter (La.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Jeff Merkeley (Colo.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.).