Housing Bill Veto Threat
There is a threat to the housing bill that has been moving through Congress. It is important, and attracted little market attention today.
The House passed an aggressive version of housing relief, led by House Financial Services Committee Chair, Barney Frank (D MA). The Senate went through a negotiating process, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R AL) acting as the spear carrier for the Bush Administration. Shelby succeeded in negotiating a compromise with Sen. Banking Committee Chair, Christopher Dodd. The compromise bill cleared the committee on a vote of 19-2.
In the normal course of events, the bill would be passed by the Senate, since it has strong bipartisan support. Many key Republicans represent states hard hit by potential foreclosures. The next step would be a conference committee to reconcile the differences with the House version. The plan was to complete legislation for President Bush's signature by July 4th.
Today's story, breaking from various sources, got little attention during trading. To the surprise of most (since Shelby had already used the Bush veto to exact various compromises) the Administration announced opposition to the Senate measure. This bill was more conservative than the Frank version from the House.
Influencing the decision was information suggesting that some key officials, including Senators, received favorable loans from Countrywide. Some analyses of the legislation suggest that Countrywide will be unduly assisted by the legislation. There are many articles on this subject, but we recommend the very objective reporting from CQ Politics.
At "A Dash" we have emphasized that solutions to the housing problems will not be a single comprehensive solution. Instead, government works in incremental fashion, addressing one aspect of the problem at a time. Some of the increments are in place, but this bill is an important addition.
As usual, we urge readers to put aside personal opinions about the merits of the legislation and consider the market impact. That is our mission.
This bill would help to stabilize housing demand. There has been a lot of attention paid to housing supply, but there is also latent demand. Most observers believe that some buyers are waiting to see stability. Others need some help in qualifying for loans. For these reasons, the measure is expected by most to help the housing market in an incremental, but important fashion.
A Presidential veto would be a negative for housing, credit markets, and the stock market in general. It is possible that a scandal involving leading Senators could either delay the Senate passage, the conference committee action, or passage of the resulting bill. It might also provide justification for a Presidential veto, especially since the lame duck Bush Administration may not be fully aligned with the GOP election needs.
If the political turmoil derails the legislation, we view this as a serious negative for US stocks. If the issue is not resolved soon, no action will be taken before the election.
It is a strange fact of our political system that the implications for specific individuals and companies may outweigh a general concern. One is easy to describe and makes good election fodder. The other involves a deeper understanding of economic effects, one that eludes the grasp of the average voter.