April 14, 2007 in Business

Mortgage giants get more scrutiny

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

WASHINGTON — Amid a worsening housing slump, Senate and House lawmakers are pushing different approaches to strengthen oversight of the two government-backed mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The housing downturn and accounting scandals at the publicly traded companies in recent years have renewed demands that lawmakers and regulators rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which hold a combined $1.5 trillion worth of mortgages.

A key Democratic-led House committee two weeks ago approved a bill requiring the two biggest buyers of home mortgages to finance a five-year affordable housing fund, estimated to provide $300 million to $500 million annually.

In the first year, the money would go to states hardest hit by the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005 and would be divided among all 50 states in subsequent years.

Senate Republicans late this week introduced legislation that does not require creation of a fund or initially focus on Hurricane Katrina victims, but requires the companies’ portfolios to focus on affordable housing “to the maximum extent possible.”

For now, lawmakers are downplaying the differences. Marvin Fast, a spokesman for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said in an e-mail Friday that there is broad agreement on the need for a “stronger, more independent regulator” to oversee Fannie and Freddie.

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