It was a busy last week in Congress, as major deals were reached on the Farm Bill and Congress' response to the mortgage crisis. The stalled nominations process for the Federal Elections Commission received a new twist with big ramifications for the 2008 presidential election, the Senate Ethics Committee cleared Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) got into trouble with the law, Barack Obama picked up 24 superdelegates, Hillary Clinton picked up 7, and North Carolina and Indiana had their congressional primaries.
On Thursday the House passed a new, catch-all housing bill that combines several bills already passed by the House and Senate by a 265-153 vote. The House bill's most remarkable feature is a program championed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the powerful head of the House Financial Services Committee. Under the program, the government would offer banks a deal: taxpayer-backed insurance on the mortgages of homeowners likely to default in exchange for making the terms significantly easier for the homeowners to make. While this would cost banks substantial amounts of money versus what they would receive if the mortgages were all paid off, it would also reduce the number of homeowners who default on their mortgages, keeping them in their homes and theoretically saving the banks money in the long run.
Homeowners who are behind in their payments and whose home values have fallen below the amount of their mortgage (thus creating an incentive for them to walk away from the loan) would be eligible for the program. The FHA would offer to insure their mortgages if the bank lowered the amount of the loan to no more than 90 percent of the current market value of the home (thus giving the homeowner positive equity in the home) and reducing the monthly payments. If the value of the insured homes rise and the homeowners sell or refinance at a profit, a portion of that profit goes back to the FHA. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 500,000 homeowners would qualify for the program.
For more on the week's legislation and other developments, click through.