Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kill (the) Bill

The Bride: You and I have unfinished business.

Bill: Baby, you ain't kidding.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2


For years housing finance reform was contentedly filibustered by white paper in the public square. On Tuesday, July 23rd, this long-running, polite discussion was rudely interrupted by a House committee chairman who presented his ideas for reform and then had the audacity to press them to a vote.


Chairman Hensarling, tired of the seemingly endless discussion, moved the Protecting American Taxpayers and Homeowners Act, or PATH Act, out of the Financial Services Committee. By taking this step, Hensarling advanced and focused the housing finance reform debate in ways we haven't seen in quite a while.


Everyone has an opinion on this. Mine is that a vote somewhere, on something, was way overdue.

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If you’ve been to the breakfast discussions, policy conferences, committee hearings, or paid casual attention to the PATH Act mark up, you know that policymakers of all political stripes say housing finance reform is the unfinished business of the Dodd Frank Act. To be fair, there are many legitimate reasons why this issue was left on the Dodd Frank cutting room floor and there are any number of clich├ęs that are apropos when it comes to illustrating why most were content to push the discussion to another day. 
   

Chairman Hensarling’s contribution to the housing finance reform debate is substantial in that he took ownership of an issue that other policymakers in leadership positions willingly allowed to languish. Chairman Hensarling moved members of Congress from just talking housing finance reform to actually voting on it. That’s no small feat and it is leadership.


Rep. Waters will not support the PATH Act and has lampooned it as the Path to Nowhere Act. Yet, Rep. Waters acknowledged the need to move forward. The majority of committee members seemed genuinely interested in a debate on housing finance reform legislation and in getting started on a long overdue process.


Many label the PATH Act a futile exercise in ideology and perhaps that’s what it ends up being. But no matter how Chairman Hensarling’s bill is viewed, it is serving an important purpose. This is why the PATH Act needs to take the next step in the legislative process and move to the House floor.


Speaking of taking the next step, the Corker-Warner bill needs to show it can keep pace. I’m sure the bill’s supporters are looking forward to their day in committee, but that day has yet to come. The PATH Act may not become law in its current form, but it has gotten out of committee. Corker-Warner needs to catch up.


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I know there are many who want to use the five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique on the PATH Act. If they truly support housing finance reform and understand the process, they’ll know that trying to kill the bill at this stage sacrifices long-term goals for a short-term political win.


It is important that House Republicans have a discussion and vote on their ideas for housing finance reform. It is important for House Democrats to present, defend, and have a vote on their alternative. That is the legislative process and the House needs to be given opportunity to work its will. A similar process needs to play out in the Senate so we see the kind of legs Corker-Warner has.


I can only imagine the amount of money that will be spent, and overtime worked, during the August recess on this issue of housing finance reform. After all, I’ll be busy with it myself. That’s an important part of the legislative process, too. Members need to hear a variety of constituent views on the intersection of housing finance policy and daily life.


I just hope that when Congress returns in September, members and Senators are still willing to pursue a long-term solution to our housing finance policy problem.