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|Posted March 27, 2008|
|How Not to Prevent Foreclosures|
With foreclosures surging, the last thing the nation needs is another government-hosted meeting where mortgage lenders pledge once again to do their utmost to help distressed borrowers stay in their homes and then go back to the business of foreclosure.
Yet, a meeting and a round of pledges is exactly what Senator John McCain called for on Tuesday, as if the country had not been down that fruitless road already. The real core of his speech was his argument against government action to help dig distressed homeowners or the country out of the mortgage mess.
Mr. McCains talk therapy will not ease, let alone end, the worst foreclosure crisis since the Depression or the financial crisis that has erupted in its wake. But worse yet is what it says about the presumptive Republican nominees view of the economy and the governments responsibility to protect and help its citizens.
His suggestion that federal aid might wrongly reward undeserving homeowners sounded both mean-spirited and economically na´ve. And then there is the double standard. He seemed less concerned about the government helping reckless bankers, endorsing its role in preventing the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns.
No one has ever proposed helping real estate speculators. And the senators language obscures the reality that most troubled homeowners did not get into trouble by themselves. Lenders, aided and abetted by bankers and do-nothing regulators, lured many borrowers into overly complex, ultimately unaffordable loans. Mr. McCain also failed to grasp that the foreclosure problem has gone far beyond the issue of the deserving and undeserving. What is on the line now is the health of the economy, including the viability of the financial system: Helping troubled borrowers stay in their homes would help the banks by reducing defaults and foreclosures.
The question now is not whether the government should intervene, but how. The two Democratic candidates clearly understand that better than the White House or Senator McCain. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have called for a bigger role for the Federal Housing Administration that would allow it to restructure or refinance more troubled loans.
Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have endorsed the best idea currently on the table to prevent foreclosure: amending the law so that troubled borrowers can have their mortgages modified in bankruptcy court. That would give lenders a big incentive to work with borrowers reducing interest or lowering principal balances before they opted for bankruptcy protection. Mrs. Clinton also has called for $30 billion in federal funds to bolster state and local foreclosure-prevention efforts and has proposed a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and a rate freeze on subprime adjustable mortgages. Those measures also could help, but as the crisis has developed, the problem has become less one of resetting interest rates and more one of borrowers owing more than their homes are worth. Bankruptcy reform is a better way to deal with that problem.
The country, of course, cannot wait for the next president to be inaugurated to seriously address the foreclosure problem although we fear that Mr. Bush still doesnt see the urgency or the full dangers of inaction. The candidates prescriptions for the mortgage mess are an important guide to what sort of leader he or she would be. After eight years of Mr. Bushs serial failures, what the country needs is a president who is willing to recognize when the governments help is essential and who is ready to use government power wisely. This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: March 27, 2008 An earlier version of this editorial stated that Senator Hillary Clinton had not endorsed the proposal to amend the bankruptcy law.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, EDITORIALS/LETTERS, of Thursday, March 27, 2008.
|McCain and Mortgages|
|To the Editor:|
Re Unlike Rivals, McCain Rejects Broad U.S. Aid on Mortgages (front page, March 26):
John McCain believes that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.
It is not surprising that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for and that Congress passed the Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Farm Mortgage Refinancing Act, which prevented foreclosures of millions of homes and farms.
But in November 1931, even President Herbert Hoover proposed and Congress later passed the Home Loan Discount Bank System to reduce foreclosures and encourage home construction. Hoover also established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to provide liquidity to banks and restore confidence in the banking system.
It is a remarkable feat for a politician running for president to be even more out of touch and indifferent to the economic distress of Americans than President Hoover.
Williamstown, Mass., March 26, 2008 The writer teaches leadership studies at Williams College and is the co-author, with James MacGregor Burns, of The Three Roosevelts.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, EDITORIALS/LETTERS, of Wednesday, March 27, 2008.
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