Federal credit programs are more out of control than either federal spending or the budget deficit, and they threaten to do more economic harm, business groups told Congress yesterday.
"Compared to the attention devoted to the deficit, the relative neglect of this lending activity is rather surprising inasmuch as these programs have essentially the same effect on our economy and its financial markets as does the more visible deficit," Ronald Utt, associate chief economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told a Senate Budget Committee task force on federal credit.
Ever-growing budget deficits--which in President Reagan's fiscal 1983 proposed budget reach a record $91.5 billion--have been widely blamed for inflation and record-high interest rates that have caused the economy to stagnate. Many of the attempts by the administration and Congress to improve the economy have focused on curbing government spending and the federal deficit.
But federal loans and loan guarantees rose by 80 percent between 1976 and 1980 compared with a rise of 58 percent in federal spending, Utt said. By 1981, federal lending support accounted for 21.2 percent of all funds advanced in U.S. credit markets, up from 11.9 percent in 1977, he said.
Federal credit programs support a wide variety of activities, but much of it goes for FHA and VA mortgages and backing of those programs by the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae).
The administration has proposed cutting back sharply on these credit activities, particularly that of Ginnie Mae, which backs FHA- and VA-insured mortgages.
While business groups complain that they are being rationed out of the credit markets by the federal government's intervention, the beneficiaries of these programs argue that the federal government is needed as a credit referee to keep large corporations from gobbling up everything that is left after the government itself takes what it needs to finance its own debt.
"In effect, the existence of the Ginnie Mae mortgage program places the individual consumer on the same plane in the credit markets as large corporate borrowers and the government," said Mark Riedy, executive vice president of the Mortgage Bankers Association.
The reductions would limit mortgage credit and increase costs to moderate-income families and veterans at a time when the housing industry is reeling from its worst depression since World War II.
The MBA labeled attempts to limit Ginnie Mae's commitment level as "artificial reductions on paper" that would have no effect on financial markets unless large numbers of potential home buyers are rationed out of the credit market because of the change.
The Ginnie Mae program does not cost the federal government anything because it is supported entirely by user fees, the MBA said.