Treasury, FDIC Near Deal on Mortgage Aid

By Peter Whoriskey, David Cho and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 30, 2008

Negotiators for the Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. are nearing agreement on a plan to have the government guarantee the mortgages of millions of distressed homeowners in what would be a significant departure for the federal rescue program, which has so far directed relief exclusively to banks and other financial institutions.

The plan, which sources said could cover as many as 3 million homeowners in danger of foreclosure and cost $40 billion to $50 billion, would go well beyond previous government and private-sector initiatives. Critics say these have attracted too few lenders or offered too little aid to homeowners to stem the foreclosure crisis.

But with economic anxieties continuing to mount and political pressure growing for expanded help to homeowners, federal officials could announce a new program to cover as much as $600 billion in mortgage loans in the coming days, sources said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were ongoing.

Treasury officials confirmed yesterday that discussions were underway for homeowner aid but said that any figures remained fluid and that other options were under consideration, as well.

Several sources said the mortgage program still faces resistance from the White House. A spokesman for President Bush said last night that the administration was analyzing various proposals.

"We have been reviewing a number of housing proposals for some time and no decisions have been made on any of them," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "Any inference that we're 'nearing' a decision on any one of them is simply wrong."

The possible details of the homeowner bailout emerged yesterday, another day of extraordinary measures by U.S. and foreign governments to arrest the financial crisis.

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the second time in two weeks and, in a move that exposes it to the risk of lending to developing nations for the first time, said it would pump as much as $120 billion into the central banks of Mexico, Brazil, Singapore and South Korea.

The International Monetary Fund said it would offer as much as $100 billion in emergency loans to developing countries staggered by investor flight and runs on their currencies and stock markets. Earlier this week, the European Central Bank said it would join the IMF and World Bank in a $25.1 billion bailout of Hungary and China's central bank cut the interest rate it controls.

At the U.S. Treasury, a growing number of financial institutions and other companies have been lobbying to get a slice of the $700 billion federal bailout.

Some foreign banks are asking to participate in the Treasury's bank investment program because "this is a global crisis," according to a letter from the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade association for large financial firms.

The nation's two major bond insurers sent letters making suggestions on shaping the rescue plan, with one asking that the government cover a portion of their losses to prevent a "systemic implosion" of the economy.

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