So we continue to prop up the housing market, probably because it provides the only positive economic news lately. Is this good for the long-term economy? I dunno, I guess it depends on how talented you are at pretending:
The Obama administration pledged Thursday to provide unlimited financial assistance to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, an eleventh-hour move that allows the government to exceed the current $400 billion cap on emergency aid without seeking permission from a bailout-weary Congress.
The Christmas Eve announcement by the Treasury Department means that it can continue to run the companies, which were seized last year, as arms of the government for the rest of President Obama's current term.
But even as the administration was making this open-ended financial commitment, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disclosed that they had received approval from their federal regulator to pay $42 million in Wall Street-style compensation packages to 12 top executives for 2009.
The compensation packages, including up to $6 million each to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's chief executives, come amid an ongoing public debate about lavish payments to executives at banks and other financial firms that have received taxpayer aid. But while many firms on Wall Street have repaid the assistance, there is no prospect that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will do so.
The administration faced a congressionally mandated deadline of Dec. 31 to increase the amount of aid it could provide to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together have already received $111 billion in assistance.
Treasury said Thursday that its decision did not mean the firms would need $200 billion or more apiece, but that it instead was seeking to assure markets that the government would stand behind the companies. In a statement, Treasury said the move "should leave no uncertainty about the Treasury's commitment to support these firms as they continue to play a vital role in the housing market during this current crisis."