Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 6, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH'S BAILOUT PLAN....From today's LA Times story about George Bush's new plan to deal with the subprime mortgage mess:

Seeking to gird the nation's economy against a potential tidal wave of foreclosures, the Bush administration will release a plan today that is expected to block many mortgages from adjusting to higher rates for as long as five years.

Administration officials acknowledged privately Wednesday that the plan was likely to face objections from low-income borrowers who won't be helped....

Bush's plan won't help low-income borrowers? That's a shocker, isn't it?

Atrios provides some more detail on what the requirements are to qualify for Bush's plan, and the two key ones that will exclude most low-income borrowers are:

  • Must not have missed a payment

  • Must own a home worth more than their mortgage

The lower your income, the more likely you are to have missed a payment already, and the lower your income the more likely you are to have been sold a no-down loan that's already left you underwater due to falling housing prices. Net result: no help for low-income folks.

Like Atrios, I've become increasingly unsure that any kind of broad-based bailout plan can work — or work well, in any case — but if you're going to do it everyone ought to have a shot at getting help. Bush's plan, conversely, pretty transparently doesn't care about anyone with a modest income. Not part of his base, I guess.

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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On the "no upside down homeowners qualify," the flip side of that stiffing poorer folks is that no mortgage lender wants that,

Due to all these CDOs, etc., they'd be stuck trying to sell what had just become a losing mortgage to a variety of investors upstream to way upstream, as I blogged yesterday.

Since the housing bubble/CDO fallout has reached as far as Narvik, Norway, refinancing upside-down loans ain’t likely to happen.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 6, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone interested in the plan and the mortgage debacle in general can find detailed and insightful analysis at Calculated Risk (http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/) and Naked Capitalism (http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

Posted by: Bob on December 6, 2007 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

There's just got to be an enormous transfer of taxpayer dollars into the hands of investment bankers and transnational bank corporations in there somewhere as well, or it just wouldn't be a Republican piece of legislation. Keep looking. As for screwing over poor people, well there's a shocker.

Posted by: jonas on December 6, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

None of this matters, since the whole thing is going to be thrown out of the courts for violating almost every principle of contract law. All it takes is one investor to sue- pointing that minor detail out- and the plan's a goner. Schumer knows this. They've tried to craft something that most will accept, but it's still not going pass the legal sniff test.

Posted by: Yawner on December 6, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Strange that Mr Market can do no wrong, and yet Bush feels the need to "help" Mr Market.

Or is this just a cover for another way to shovel money from poor people to rich ones?

Posted by: craigie on December 6, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Yawner, could you be a bit more specific about why you think this law will be overturned in the courts? Although I don't have my pocket Constitution handy, I think Congress has constitutional authority to make laws that override private contracts -- that's what bankruptcy does, after all -- it's only the states that don't.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on December 6, 2007 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Strange that they won't adjust upside down mortgages. I'd think that would be precisely the kind you'd be willing to take lower interest payments as long as payments kept coming. The alternative is having the borrower mail in the keys to something that isnt worth what is owed.

Posted by: Patrick on December 6, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

My proposal would be that people with ARM's should be able to foreclose on themselves without penalty to their credit rating so they can relieve themselves of the burden the real estate bubble created. I think W. Bush's administration's proposal is a speculator bailout and/also window dressing for public approval. The real bailout is being done for the banks by the Fed.

All of those people with subprime mortgages worth less than the value of the home should punish the lenders by defaulting. The subprime borrowers are treated badly by lenders, politicians and the economy. They should reciprocate the behavior. They have nothing to lose but crushing, lifelong debt.

Posted by: Brojo on December 6, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick, Brojo, read my original post. There's too much debt ownership too far upstream, too scattered, and too far gone bad for upside down loans to be frozen.

And, folks like city governments (Narvik, Norway, even, as I mentioned) and pension plans, aren't your typical "speculative investors."

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 6, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect a lot of middle-income people are upside down in their houses as well.

Posted by: kc on December 6, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Toad,

Bankruptcy is an exception- and a painful one for those declaring it. But here's the gist: Borrower takes a loan, signs a contract with repayment terms. The repayment is usually owed to investors- not the bank making the loan. If it's the bank, and they're part of this deal, then modifying terms is ok. But if it's investors all over the country, not party to this deal due to #s, then the deal is being modified by the government without their permission. So- the contract has been modified without permission of the owner of the assets, essentially. The courts are likely to throw that out, because legally- this isn't bankruptcy. And this particular deal does not appear to be going through Congress. If it does go through Congress, then maybe we've got a different story. But so far it appears to be a bunch of lenders, the Treasury, and other parties doing it ad hoc, not legislatively. The LA Times article linked pretty much acknowledges these issues.

Posted by: Yawner on December 6, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Commenter "Brojo" writes that subprime borrowers have been mistreated by all and sundry. I think it is more accurate to say that the lending bubble consisted largely in banks being willing to lend to these borrowers at all -- in more cautious times they would not have been able to obtain a mortgage.

Banks were tremendously remiss, and good policy should ensure that they and their shareholders are not bailed out of their bad decisions; but the effect of their carelessness was to extend credit to many who otherwise would have had no access.

The choice is between subprime credit at bad terms and no credit at all. Beware of "credit snobs", as Alex Tabarrok has called them, who want to protect the less well off my ensuring that they have no access to loans.

Posted by: sammler on December 6, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Like most bureaucratic solutions this one contains arbitrary cutoffs. Only loans made during a specific 18? month period that reset in another specific 18months apply. Only owner occupied homes as well. This latter is meant to exclude bailing out realestate speculators. But, I pity the guy who can't find a buyer, and can't occupy his house because he had to move to keep his job.

I suspect the banks are considered to have sufficient motivation to offer interest rate breaks to underwater homeowners, so perhaps that exclusion isn't quite as bad as it sounds?

Posted by: bigTom on December 6, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

The question is, if folks are under water, why not walk away -- what on earth do they have to lose? If that's your situation, at this point, the lender is the one in trouble, not you. Take advantage and screw them for everything you can because they can, will, and have done the exact same to you. If that home goes on their books as REO they're going to bleed money on it. Milk it.

In that sense, not bailing out folks u/w is a gift. Many of them shouldn't be in the home in the first place and all of them should be doing their damndest to find a way to get out from under it.


Posted by: Earl on December 6, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

More bad news?

Foreclosures and defaults both hit an all-time high in the third quarter.

Why bad news in another way?

That will increase the pressure for another Fed rate cut.

Why bad news there?

The European Central Bank is expected to increase its rate a quarter percent.

Between the two rate changes, the dollar will probably lose another 10 percent of value against the euro and other currencies, leading to more actual and possible dollar flight.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 6, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Must not have missed a payment, and Must own a home worth more than their mortgage

WTF? So we're going to help out people who (a) have good credit and (b) are in a position to walk away from their house if they can find a buyer soon enough, and make a profit from the deal.

Posted by: RSA on December 6, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Earl, I've learned, second-hand, of "professional walkaways."

They take something like a zero-down, 2/28 loan, especially if no financial questions are asked, and simply walk away at the end of 2 years.

Then repeat.

Banks and other lenders deserve what they get.

Residential neighborhoods that get trashed-up homes from this do not, even if developers are building pieces of crap in the first place.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 6, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm shocked, shocked to find that George W. Bush doesn't care for the poor or lower middle class, except when its members can serve as props for a good photo-op. Who knew?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 6, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK


To start with, most people like having a house and they don't relish the idea of walking away and having no home for at least seven years. Also, some people have at least some equity in the house and they don't want to lose that either.

But I don't get what the worry is. Norman Rogers has claimed his son Chip is getting into the real estate market, so I am sure that is going to fix everything.

Posted by: Tripp on December 6, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

The question they ask themselves is, "might this keep a few more balls in the air until Jan 20, 2009?"

Posted by: jefff on December 6, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

extend credit to many who otherwise would have had no access.

The credit issued to people who otherwise would not have had access to it was to purchase homes at super over-inflated prices. Those homes may never be worth what those people borrowed. Since those homes are not worth the loans used to purchase them, those people who otherwise would not have had access to the credit to purchase them should walk away from them. A bad credit rating is not nearly as painful as paying thirty years for something that is not worth the price.

Investors on Wall Street walk away from bad investments all of the time. They cut their losses and move on. Subprime borrowers should follow their example.

Posted by: Brojo on December 6, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

We must let The Market work!!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on December 6, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

What was it that Ralph Nader said his father once told him "Capitalism will survive because a socialist will come along to save it."

Well here is socialist solution to a capitalist problem brought to you by those supposed defenders of the Free Market - the Bush II Administration.

Oh, wait a minute I forogt these are the compassionate conservatives. They want to use government to help those who are getting hurt.

Unless they're Democrats, which in this case looks like the very people who won't benefit from this proposal.

So what you have is right-wing social democracy, government benefits for the select few instead of the broad mass.

Myself I would prefer a good old-fashioned leftist making such a proposal. Floyd Olson and Bill Langer used to have moratoriums on forclosures too during the Great Depression. It's so much easier to understand than to watch so-called capitalists using the government to save themslves from their own mistakes.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on December 6, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

It's a little convoluted, but I don't think this is actually Bush's fault. The reason this program can't help everyone who needs it is because it's committed to not costing taxpayer money and working within the existing contracts (addressing Yawner's concern above).

This idea is targeted at those subprime loans with "starter" rates of something like 9%, that are going to go up to 13%. Investors are willing to suck it up and take only the 9%, because it's still a profit over their cost of funds; it's in their collective best interest. They're not going to be willing to stick with those 2% starter rates when their cost of funds is 5% -- not unless they're either compensated with taxpayer money, or forced to by a government rewrite of the contracts.

Unfortunately, this means a lot of people still lose their homes, and the ones that don't get to keep them for the privilege of paying "only" 9% on their mortgages.

Posted by: Chris on December 6, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Seems like this would just put the squeeze on the next entity up in the food chain.

Posted by: Luther on December 6, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

If you're going to do it, you don't merely have to make it a little more broadly based. If you are gonna do it, you have to just grant a universal moratorium on the expiration of teasers for, say, six months. And banish any covenants not permitting refinancing or complete paydowns.

And you have to get all the different people, with all their different little pieces of this, from the people who paid the premium to have the safest pieces, to the people who bought the real crappy tranches, all of them, agree to take this hit.

Not gonna happen.

Posted by: jayackroyd on December 6, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Jefff said "might this keep a few more balls in the air until Jan 20, 2009?”

You betcha! Booosh will do just about anything to keep a lid on this economic nightmare to avoid ownership of it.

From what I have learned, the plan is voluntary anyway so it’s just a matter of convincing the Pig to wear the lipstick.


Posted by: MEG on December 6, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

These lenders knew what they where getting into.The homeowner should have done some reading up on ARM's.People like me who lived in a trailer for three years just so I could sane enough money for a house will get screwed in the end.When the rates are around 5-6% where do you think a ARM is going to go.Stupid people stupid lenders.

Posted by: john john on December 6, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect the banks are considered to have sufficient motivation to offer interest rate breaks to underwater homeowners, so perhaps that exclusion isn't quite as bad as it sounds?

The banks don't own the loans, Tom. There isn't anybody to negotiate with. The loans are in pieces, compiled up into multiple derivative instruments.

And this whole negotiate because you don't want to have to foreclose is, IME, nonsense. I was in that situation as an executor of an estate. The primary asset was a home that had negative equity--that the realtor couldn't move at any price (for a couple of good reasons). The bank refused any compromise--interest only payments for a period, moratorium on payments for a period.

Nothing. Foreclosure or nothing was the deal.

And this was in the late 1980s, when the bank servicing the loan was the bank that issued it.

What will happen is a bunch of taxpayer money will go into propping this up for a while, and then a Japanese style meltdown where no credit is available.

The entire market has to be reconfigured; if newly issued CDOs can't be sold (and why would they be) then the system has to entirely rejiggered back to the way it worked before the heros of Liar's Poker thought this stuff up.

Posted by: jayackroyd on December 6, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK


You're not getting what happened here. The banks who issued the loans and then repackaged them into CDOs aren't the ones who are taking the bath here. What happened was that the connection between the capital of the bank issuing the loan, and the collateral that underlay the loan the bank was issuing was broken.

There was no downside risk to the to the bank. It collected the fees, then sold the loan. The borrower is more at fault here than the lender, or rather, stupider, because his investment in his house (or at least the sum of his monthly payments as embodied in the house) really was at risk, which the issuing bank's capital was not.

But, because the bank was not risk, and certainly the mortgage brokers were not at risk at all, there was a very large incentive to deceive the borrower--wave the first month's payment at him, and tell him that the housing market would take care of him, and forget to mention the reset rates.

Posted by: jayackroyud on December 6, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks to Bush for keeping the artificially inflated housing market high, an entire generation of young people will be shut out of buying homes for years to come. Housing prices have grown exponentially out of whack with salaries over the past five years. My older sister was able to afford a home in 200 easily; there is no way I can even ge ta condo now.

Thanks, once again, Baby Boomers for ruining society in yet another way for a new generation!

Posted by: Dennis B on December 6, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

At least the bailout is aimed at the people who would suffer the most in the event of foreclosure, not at the mortgage brokers and other unsrupulous scum who steered the gullible and naive into these low down payment, high interest rate gimmicks. I only hope that the Wallt Street whiz kids that came up with these CDO and SIV financial instruments s suffer a little bit, as a result of this debacle. If their BMW gets repossessed and their Blackberry gets disabled because they are unemployed, that would be the real poetic justice in the whole sad affair.

Of course, that isn't likely to happen. Unfortunately.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on December 6, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

My plan:
Reverse the CEO income increases over the past 20 years - redistribute that income to the workers. The vast majority of middle class incomes would suddenly be able to afford to own homes again.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on December 6, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Usually a lot of you commenters have a pretty clear cut understanding of what your talking about,but and there's always a but,you don't have a clue what your talking about here.
A. George Bushes plan will have little or no effect on the situation. Many lenders are already offering a similar plan to their borrowers. Besides that it's like every other thing he does. One hundred percent incompetant and full of bullshit.
This is a classic case of watch the monkey.
B.These loans have been offered for years and have worked extroadinarily well at increasing home ownership.People just don't pull out of their houses and leave them because they don't have equity in them. They live there
Sooner or later facing the fact of the underlying weakness in the economy will surface in the tiny brains of those who are pontificating on this issue.Once we recognize what the real problem is then and only then can we really address it.

Posted by: Gandalf on December 6, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

I see this as the Administration's attempt to get as much flash as possible for as little buck. It affects only a tiny percentage of the loans involved, will probably get derailed anyway by a class-action suit from a bunch of investors, and there's nothing in place really to decide how to pick the candidates. ("can help" vs. "can't help.") So it's more smoke and mirrors, thass ahl...

But it makes the gummit look better and maybe will calm down the markets (who have been acting like chickens flapping around with their heads cut off) so, well, why not do it?

(I'm not against it for "moral hazard" or the "screw-all-others-I-saved-up-and-was-virtuous-why-can't-they" that we're hearing now from the Free Market fanatics. I simply don't think that this will do anything.)

Posted by: grumpy realist on December 6, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Subprime borrowers are considered indentured servants to their mortgages by the finance industry and W. Bush Americans.

If the borrowers determine staying in a mortgage that costs them above market interest rates for a house worth less than the market, that is their decision and they are welcome to rationalize living in a very expensive house is worth it.

If those same borrowers determine that the house they bought with borrowed money is not worth the high interest rate or the house is not worth the price paid, that is their decision and they are welcome to default on their loans and become renters. The government should help them out and make a law preventing their default from effecting their credit rating. The government is already bailing out the banks who made bad loans, so it should help people who want out of their bad loans, too.

Posted by: Brojo on December 6, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with gandalf and grumpy. President and Paulson know this will not really help. However, they hope that the appearance of action will improve "confidence in the financial sector." If things continue in the direction they are going, a messey recession is likely. Last thing the repub's want going into 2008 elections is a sour economy. They will do whatever they can to hold the fort so that the economy folds after 2008.

Posted by: steve on December 6, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

With those caveats...

...What percentage of adjusting loans you think are going to be affected?

I can't think more than one or two percent.

Posted by: Crissa on December 6, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Err, escaped my notice, but...

...Won't declining housing prices put even more people on the upside down side?

Put 10% on a house, it declines 10%, and you're disqualified...

Posted by: Crissa on December 6, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

All we need here is a good market correction. Let the foolish lenders and borrowers take the hit.

Posted by: Brian on December 6, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

The Fed has already been lending money at very low interest rates to financial institutions who have invested poorly in the financial instruments full of these bad subprime loans. This is welfare for the banks and some say this increase in the money supply is very bad for the economy in the long run.

The government is not offering to loan subprime borrowers money at similar low interest rates so they can refinance their ARM's. The government is trying to lessen the 'hit' on lenders and providing almost nothing to lessen the 'hit' on borrowers.

Posted by: Brojo on December 6, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Gandalf's partway there but this wasn't a concoction of the GwB, it was a creation of the money center banks facing this paper. The WSJ studied the CDO pools since 2000 and found that in 2005, 55% of the sub-prime borrowers had FICO scores above 650 and in 2006, 61% of the sub-prime borrowers were over 650.

In addition, 80% of the borrowers in those sub-prime pools are current in their payments. Being current goes a long way towards "proving" that the value of the house exceeds "market value" since, if you're current, there is no event that would cause such valuation. No need to sell, no data proving the house is worth less than the mortgage.

This proposal has a lot more to do with trying to show there is value (as well as cash flow) in the last 2 years' worth of CDOs. This proposal is to help establish a floor for the value of the CDOs so there can be "proof" of value and restoring liquidity to the sub=prime market. The WSJ didn't do this study just for its news value.

Posted by: TJM on December 6, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, once again, Baby Boomers for ruining society in yet another way for a new generation!

And yet they wonder why we hate them so ....

Posted by: Mnemosyne on December 6, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

...The question is, if folks are under water, why not walk away -- what on earth do they have to lose? If that's your situation, at this point, the lender is the one in trouble, not you. - Earl

I think there is going to be a lot of walking away that is going to happen over the next few months no matter what they do about "freezing interest rates". I bet a good chunk of the people that can be "helped" by this will be struggling to make the payments even if they are frozen. What's going to happen when companies start cutting OT or laying off? Another cascade of defaults. This is nothing but Financial Valium™ to keep people from all running to the exits at once before the election.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 6, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

There's no plan. It's voluntary. And the meltdown isn't caused by people with equity in their homes who make all their payments on time, in any case.

Posted by: Jalmari on December 6, 2007 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

My proposal would be that people with ARM's should be able to foreclose on themselves without penalty to their credit rating so they can relieve themselves of the burden the real estate bubble created.

My proposal would be that homeowners and banking institutions get bailed out by the government to keep the economy solvent, but that all loan officers who sold people no-money-down ARMs with teaser rates on properties with inflated values in the past 5 years be tagged with biometric identification, hunted down by teams of specially trained ferrets and nude Swedes carrying rawhide whips, and placed in baseball-triggered dunking tanks to serve as fairground amusements for the rest of their natural lives.

Posted by: brooksfoe on December 7, 2007 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

But will Bush's plan help households with more than $84,000 income?

Posted by: tx bubba on December 7, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Many poor folks voted for Bu$h based on "Faith."

They had "faith" Bush was a "good Christian." Turns out, he is simply a "good KKKristian." Well, you can't take that "faith" to the bank, can ya?

Anyone who is making less than $100,000.00 per year and votes Republican votes against their self interest!

Posted by: cowboyneok on December 7, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

One other thing...

This is the same kind of thing we see time after time with the Bu$h Crime Family.

1. CREATE a huge mess
2. SEND in "the Bu$h Family" to make money off the mess without doing anything to fix it.
3. SHIELD the Bu$h Family from any accountability
4. Create another Me$$ and REPEAT!

Posted by: cowboyneok on December 7, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

"My proposal would be that people with ARM's should be able to foreclose on themselves without penalty to their credit rating so they can relieve themselves of the burden the real estate bubble created."
How do you think the housing bubble happened. People taking out ARM's are generally not people who plan to live in the house for the long haul. They're people who buy and then hope to cash in on the rising market. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO CREATED THE BUBBLE. And now the government is supposed to ride in and rescue them.

Posted by: Jim on December 7, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

I took out an ARM because I bought a fixer upper and it was the only way I could get a lender to loan on it.

Over the past year I have been painstakingly fixing it up as I prepare to live in it for the next forty years. I have met the neighborhood watch (important as it's not a very good neighborhood) painted over graffeti and attended all the right meetings.

My loan is due for to jump in another year and I may not be done with my improvements by then. If I'm not done the house will effectively value less than I bought it for despite the money and time invested. It would be nice to know that if I'm not done yet some level of relief could be found.

Not all of us are ARM suckers. Some of us just want a home to plant the daisys around and to play with the kids.

Posted by: Dermorgen on December 7, 2007 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

Jim, most of the people who received ARM mortgages were probably young people who took realtors' and lenders' advise to invest in homes they were told never depreciate and that refinancing to lower rates is always available. Those people are like most everyone else, they want to live in single family homes and raise families. The speculators, at least the smart ones, have already cut their losses and moved on.

Punishing the realtors and lenders is a good idea. They Enroned a lot of home buyers, and many of the buyers will honor their obligations and continue to pay for an asset that may never be worth the price paid. Some of these people will be paying twice what renting would provide. Even though they 'own' the property through a mortgage, the opportunity cost of that ownership is very high and destructive to many who will try and honor their obligations.

Posted by: Brojo on December 8, 2007 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

yw97A1 comment4 ,

Posted by: Ydmxafju on June 24, 2009 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK



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