Barney Frank Drops A Financial Crisis Bombshell; The Press Responds With Silence
by Gaius Publius
I can't take credit for this, though I wish I could. David Dayen, who writes at Salon, has been reading Barney Frank's new book Frank and also its reviews. Dayen is one of the most knowledgeable writers on the mortgage and financial crises — both. (Note to readers: It's not a financial crisis if there's no mortgage crisis. It's the inability to pay mortgage debt that started the avalanche of derivative-caused banking losses.)
Dayen noticed that in his book Frank makes a startling revelation, but since it involves (a) mortgage borrowers, not bankers, and (b) the current Democratic president, it has gotten zero coverage. What's the revelation? Barack Obama could have singlehandedly made sure TARP money, as mandated by Congress, was made available for mortgage relief, and chose not to.
For doomed mortgage-holders, as opposed to protected and bailed-out bankers, that makes Obama the perp. How do we know? Barney Frank said so in print. Here's Dayen's catch (my emphasis):
Barney Frank drops a bombshell: How a shocking anecdote explains the financial crisisBut Frank kept pushing:
Barney Frank has a new autobiography out. He’s long been one of the nation’s most quotable politicians. And Washington lives in perpetual longing for intra-party conflict.
So why has a critical revelation from Frank’s book, one that implicates the most powerful Democrat in the nation, been entirely expunged from the record? The media has thus far focused on Frank’s wrestling with being a closeted gay congressman, or his comment that Joe Biden “can’t keep his mouth shut or his hands to himself.” But nobody has focused on Frank’s allegation that Barack Obama refused to extract foreclosure relief from the nation’s largest banks, as a condition for their receipt of hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money.
The anecdote comes on page 295 of “Frank,” a title that the former chair of the House Financial Services Committee holds true to throughout the book. The TARP legislation included specific instructions to use a section of the funds to prevent foreclosures. Without that language, TARP would not have passed; Democratic lawmakers who helped defeat TARP on its first vote cited the foreclosure mitigation piece as key to their eventual reconsideration.
TARP was doled out in two tranches [slices; bundles] of $350 billion each. The Bush administration, still in charge during TARP’s passage in October 2008, used none of the first tranche on mortgage relief, nor did Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson use any leverage over firms receiving the money to persuade them to lower mortgage balances and prevent foreclosures. Frank made his anger clear over this ignoring of Congress’ intentions at a hearing with Paulson that November. Paulson argued in his defense, “the imminent threat of financial collapse required him to focus single-mindedly on the immediate survival of financial institutions, no matter how worthy other goals were.”
With the first tranche of TARP funds running out by the end of the year, Frank writes, “Paulson agreed to include homeowner relief in his upcoming request for a second tranche of TARP funding. But there was one condition: He would only do it if the President-elect asked him to.”The "President-elect" was Barack Obama, and he said no, we're just going to bail out the banks, which is told by Frank via this classic Frank-ism:
Frank goes on to explain that Obama rejected the request, saying “we have only one president at a time.” Frank writes, “my frustrated response was that he had overstated the number of presidents currently on duty,” which equally angered both the outgoing and incoming officeholders.Dayen goes on to document just how often the President-elect violated that "one president at a time" principle before taking office. He also notes that there was a second round of negotiation with Congress about releasing the second tranche, in which promises were made by the President-elect and broken. Seems the man was determined not to bail out the "wrong people" — an opinion widely held among elite opinion makers and leaders.
Remember, this is Barack Obama vintage 2008. Certainly post-campaign — he'd already won — but pre–taking office, with all the rolling betrayals that entailed. Only those watching his FISA vote, perhaps, knew what was coming.
Dayen couches this unfortunate event in humanitarian concerns, as he should, but also in economic terms. By not bailing out the nation's purchasers, the public, Obama extended the crisis:
That’s the main reason why the significance of Obama’s decision cannot be overstated. The fact that we waited six years to get some semblance of a decent economic recovery traces back directly to the failure to alleviate the foreclosure crisis. Here was a moment, right near the beginning, when both public money and leverage could have been employed to stop foreclosures. Instead of demanding homeowner help when financial institutions relied on massive government support, the Administration passed, instead prioritizing nursing banks back to health and then asking them to give homeowners a break, which the banks predictably declined.But again, we're back to elite opinion, which holds that even though the way out of a crisis like this is to stimulate buying and demand, that option is off the table. Because, whether people will say it or not, in our post-Reagan job-creator world, only the wealthy deserve to be made whole by the government. That's not snark; it's one of the guiding principles of our government.
Dayen makes a great catch, and his Salon piece is a very good read, including his baseball-metaphor conclusion. My point is a little different than his, however. Our need to service the "free" market wealthy, obvious in this anecdote, will kill us, literally. But that's a climate story for another day.
He drank the milkshake of the mortgaged.
Did Obama hold the straw?
Did Obama hold the straw?
Do stay tuned though; the "free" market wealthy are draining most of California's water, drinking that milkshake as well, and there's a war brewing. More on that shortly.