|By James Tyson
Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest sources of money for U.S. home loans, would be allowed to buy mortgages as high as $500,000 under an amendment to congressional legislation that will likely be voted on next week, Representative Barney Frank told reporters in Washington today.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, plans to insert the amendment into legislation giving the Federal Housing Administration more flexibility to insure home loans. The amendment would also give the Housing and Urban Development department authority to further raise the limit.
The provision, which would raise the companies' loan cap from $417,000, is intended to moderate the worst housing slump in 16 years. Declining home sales and prices combined with rising loan delinquencies and foreclosures have crippled mortgage markets, leaving consumers with fewer options to get a loan or refinance.
The Bush administration opposes allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy larger home loans, Treasury spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli said. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Treasury Undersecretary Robert Steel ``have both said that the subprime market is the area where policy makers should focus to really make a difference.''
Washington-based Fannie Mae and McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac buy mostly fixed-rate loans made to borrowers with good credit. They don't guarantee subprime home loans. The decline in mortgage markets this year has been led by record delinquencies and foreclosures on subprime loans.
Maintaining the Constraints
Frank and Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Charles Schumer of New York have said the Bush administration has inhibited a revival of mortgage credit by maintaining constraints on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including a ban on expanding their mortgage portfolio beyond a $1.4 trillion limit.
Should Congress not strengthen regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ``I do think the administration would fight'' allowing the companies to buy bigger home loans and expand their mortgage holdings, Frank told reporters today.
The Bush administration has unsuccessfully tried to persuade Congress to create a tougher regulator for the companies since 2003 and the beginning of revelations of $11.3 billion in accounting misstatements.
Created by Congress to increase financing for home loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac profit by holding mortgages and mortgage-backed securities as investments and by charging a fee to guarantee and pool home loans as bonds.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which account for 40 percent of the $10.9 trillion U.S. home loan market, agreed last year to limit their growth as part of a settlement with regulators following their accounting errors.
Fannie Mae is required to restrict its portfolio to $727.2 billion, the asset level on Dec. 31, 2005. Freddie Mac must constrain annual growth of its $720.6 billion portfolio to 2 percent.
The bill number is H.R. 1852.
To contact the reporter on this story: James Tyson in Washington at email@example.com