President Obama appeared on the Daily Show last night, and Jon Stewart confronted him with the “H” word. It’s not one that comes up much in Obama’s presence; I can’t remember the last time, in fact. But last night, he had to answer for HAMP.
It came in a follow-up, actually, which shows the level of preparedness of the Daily Show staff, a few notches above, well, everyone in journalism. Obama started making his pitch for refinancing for underwater borrowers with non-GSE loans, a familiar topic. Refinancing has boomed due to low interest rates, and legislation is required to let underwater borrowers without Fannie and Freddie loans access it. Of course, then they will get the privilege of being ripped off on their lowered interest rate by their non-competitive lenders, who will reap big profits from the whole enterprise. But that’s a topic for another day.
In response to this, Stewart simply said, “But what about HAMP, you were supposed to spend $50 billion on that, you only spent $5.5 billion.” If anything, Stewart may have oversold it; less than $4.5 billion has been spent as of the end of June.
Obama didn’t try to defend HAMP, because simply, there is no defense. HAMP was designed to foam the runway for the banks and let them foreclose more gradually on the same borrowers while squeezing out a few extra payments. Instead, Obama threw out two statistics: 1) that there have been 5 million loan modifications “to save people from losing their homes,” 2) the government just reached a settlement with the five leading servicers for $25 billion.
OK, on the five million loan mods, this is an Administration talking point. It includes private loan mods performed through HOPE Now, a program started in the Bush Administration, as well as FHA modifications and the like. Basically anything that smells like a loan modification counts for the purposes of this talking point. The problem is that these private loan modifications, which the Administration justifies taking credit for because they say HAMP “standardized the modification process,” happen to be terrible. Over 45% of them redefaulted, and many of them went right back into foreclosure. So the idea that a) taking credit for what private banks did on loan modifications, and b) taking credit for bad modifications, is a bit silly.
Then there’s the foreclosure fraud settlement. When you have to put the two numbers side-by-side, you can see what a depressingly inadequate settlement it was, no? The Administration left $45 billion unallocated through HAMP and its various foreclosure mitigation programs, but they got $25 billion for the settlement, so everything’s OK.
Just yesterday we learned that half of the hard dollars in the settlement were just stolen from homeowners and diverted by the states to fill their budget holes. The banks can get up to $4-5 billion more in “credit” for actions they already take like bulldozing homes or giving them to charity. And the first oversight report showed that the bulk of the settlement relief so far came from short sales, where the homeowner is forced to sell the home. Not to mention the overriding fact that these banks broke the law repeatedly for years, committed the largest consumer fraud in history, defrauded state courts, and ended up with this cozy settlement.
It’s sad to have to rebut this. But I want to focus on something else. When the pool report about the Obama Daily Show appearance came out, it mentioned practically every exchange EXCEPT the one about HAMP. The media has done maybe the worst job in recent memory even identifying this huge program that completely failed, with dramatic repercussions for our economy. It takes Jon Stewart for that.