The administration’s response is bizarrely weak and almost not worth mentioning. Their essential beef is that the Times didn’t know about or mention Bush’s primetime address to the nation on the crisis. That address was on September 24—of this year. It was years after anything the Times was reporting about and was just utterly inconsequential, not only for this story, but of any impact, period. The cat had been out of the bag for two years—meaning the bubble had already popped—by the time of this speech.
And the Times shows how out of it the administration was:
Among the Republican Party’s top 10 donors in 2004 was Roland Arnall. He founded Ameriquest, then the nation’s largest lender in the subprime market, which focuses on less creditworthy borrowers. In July 2005, the company agreed to set aside $325 million to settle allegations in 30 states that it had preyed on borrowers with hidden fees and ballooning payments. It was an early signal that deceptive lending practices, which would later set off a wave of foreclosures, were widespread.
Andrew H. Card Jr., Mr. Bush’s former chief of staff, said White House aides discussed Ameriquest’s troubles, though not what they might portend for the economy. Mr. Bush had just nominated (CEO) Roland Arnall as his ambassador to the Netherlands, and the White House was primarily concerned with making sure he would be confirmed.
“Maybe I was asleep at the switch,” Mr. Card said in an interview.
Yes, that Ameriquest after they’d been nailed for screwing borrowers.
And Karl Rove bigfoots one of the administration’s Cassandras:
Brian Montgomery, the Federal Housing Administration commissioner, understood the significance… When he arrived in June 2005, he was shocked to find those customers had been lured away by the “fool’s gold” of subprime loans. The Ameriquest settlement, he said, reinforced his concern that the industry was exploiting borrowers.
In December 2005, Mr. Montgomery drafted a memo and brought it to the White House. “I don’t think this is what the president had in mind here,” he recalled telling Ryan Streeter, then the president’s chief housing policy analyst.
It was an opportunity to address the risky subprime lending practices head on. But that was never seriously discussed. More senior aides, like Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s chief political strategist, were wary of overly regulating an industry that, Mr. Rove said in an interview, provided “a valuable service to people who could not otherwise get credit.” While he had some concerns about the industry’s practices, he said, “it did provide an opportunity for people, a lot of whom are still in their houses today.”
The White House pursued a narrower plan offered by Mr. Montgomery that would have allowed the F.H.A. to loosen standards so it could lure back subprime borrowers by insuring similar, but safer, loans. It passed the House but died in the Senate, where Republican senators feared that the agency would merely be mimicking the private sector’s risky practices — a view Mr. Rove said he shared.
Looking back at the episode, Mr. Montgomery broke down in tears. While he acknowledged that the bill did not get to the root of the problem, he said he would “go to my grave believing” that at least some homeowners might have been spared foreclosure.
It finds that Bush killed a compromise that would have resulted in greater oversight of Fannie and Freddie:
Mr. Falcon lacked explicit authority to limit the size of the companies’ mammoth investment portfolios, or tell them how much capital they needed to guard against losses. White House officials wanted that to change. They also wanted the power to put the companies into receivership, hoping that would end what Mr. Card, the former chief of staff, called “the myth of government backing,” which gave the companies a competitive edge because investors assumed the government would not let them fail.
By the spring of 2005 a deal with Congress seemed within reach, Mr. Snow, the former Treasury secretary, said in an interview.