Testifying on Capitol Hill Friday, Neel Kashkari, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for financial stability, said the aim of the $700 billion plan was to make investments with the hope of getting the money back. That he said, was "fundamentally different from just having a government spending program" that would disburse money with no chance of ever seeing any returns.
With the Bush administration adamantly opposed, Congressional Democrats could take up the FDIC's plan when they return for a lame-duck session next week. Or Bair's plan could set the stage for a new foreclosure prevention initiative once President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.
There is intense speculation in Washington that the FDIC's chairman, Sheila Bair, is positioning herself for a role in the Obama administration. "My assumption is that she's angling for a promotion," said Bert Ely, a banking industry consultant in Alexandria, Va. and an FDIC critic.
The agency's plan, posted on its Web site Friday, would guarantee 2.2 million modified loans
- mainly risky loans made to borrowers with weak credit or small down payments
- through the end of next year. Borrowers would get reduced interest rates or longer loan terms to make their payments more affordable.
"If we can avoid those foreclosures, then you will get more stability in the housing market," said Michael Krimminger, a senior adviser to FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, in an interview Thursday.
The FDIC says the government's backing will make the lending industry more willing to modify loans because taxpayers will absorb half of the losses if the borrower defaults again. Also, loan servicing companies, which collect and distribute mortgage payments, would be paid $1,000 for each loan they modify.
Even if a third of borrowers default again on their modified loans, 1.5 million homes would still be saved, the FDIC says. Under the agency's plan, monthly payments shouldn't total more than 31 percent of homeowners' pretax monthly income.