Evolving Excellence just posted a great piece on the causes behind the current mortgage crisis:
Washington is as deeply implicated in this meltdown as anyone on Wall Street or at Countrywide Financial. Going back decades, but especially in the past 15 or so years, our politicians have promoted housing and easy credit with a variety of subsidies and policies that helped to create and feed the mania.
The Community Reinvestment Act. This 1977 law compels banks to make loans to poor borrowers who often cannot repay them. Banks that failed to make enough of these loans were often held hostage by activists when they next sought some regulatory approval.
These are the firms that bought the increasingly questionable mortgages originated by Angelo Mozilo's Countrywide and others. Even as the bubble was popping, they dived into pools of subprime and Alt-A ("liar") loans to meet Congressional demand to finance "affordable" housing. And they were both the cause and beneficiary of the great interest-group army that lobbied for ever more housing subsidies.
Fan and Fred's patrons on Capitol Hill didn't care about the risks inherent in their combined trillion-dollar-plus mortgage portfolios, so long as they helped meet political goals on housing. Even after taxpayers have had to pick up a bailout tab that may grow as large as $200 billion, House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank still won't back a reduction in their mortgage portfolios.
Meanwhile, the least regulated firms -- hedge funds and private-equity companies -- have had the fewest problems, or have folded up their mistakes with the least amount of trauma. All of this reaffirms the historical truth that regulators almost always discover financial excesses only after the fact.
For the first time in history, a serious Fannie and Freddie reform bill was passed by the Senate Banking Committee. The bill would have required the companies to eliminate their investments in risky assets.
If that bill had become law, then the world today would be different. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, a blizzard of terrible mortgage paper fluttered out of the Fannie and Freddie clouds, burying many of our oldest and most venerable institutions. Without their checkbooks keeping the market liquid and buying up excess supply, the market would likely have not existed. But the bill didn't become law, for a simple reason: Democrats opposed it on a party-line vote in the committee, signaling that this would be a partisan issue. Republicans, tied in knots by the tight Democratic opposition, couldn't even get the Senate to vote on the matter.
The cognizant from both parties, and the President, could have made a much bigger stink about the upcoming crisis, but they didn't. That's a crisis in leadership, from both parties.
So now that the government is 'fixing' our housing and financial crisis's we should look forward to them fixing our health care system, right?