WASHINGTON — Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd met with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank late Tuesday to persuade him to support the Senate housing package without changes, sources said.
But the meeting underscored the growing outside pressures on both lawmakers that make it harder for them to reach an agreement.
Sen. Dodd told his House counterpart he has effectively pushed a compromise with Senate Republicans as far as he can. Rep. Frank responded that Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants more changes that would benefit borrowers in her home state of California, according to sources.
It was unclear when or whether the two sides would break the stalemate in enough time to get the bill enacted this year. Lawmakers had hoped to wrap up the bill by next week's July 4 recess, which is due to begin after final votes today, but that now appears highly unlikely.
Last week Rep. Frank warned that he could not support the Senate housing package, which includes measures designed to stabilize home prices and revamp regulation of the government-sponsored enterprises, because it would not provide adequate time for the implementation of a new GSE supervisor.
That issue appears to have taken a back seat to Rep. Pelosi's concerns about liquidity for loans in high-cost regions, sources said.
Under the Senate bill, the GSEs could purchase, and the Federal Housing Administration could insure, mortgages of up to $625,000 in high-price areas — roughly $100,000 below the mark set in House legislation. Rep. Pelosi is seeking to add language that would give the new GSE regulator the discretion to raise that amount in certain circumstances, sources said.
"The Speaker supports the House-passed provisions on loan limits, which would apply to the GSEs, the FHA, and the FHA foreclosure rescue plan," said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Rep. Pelosi. "The Speaker has communicated that position clearly to the Senate."
Representatives for Rep. Frank and Sen. Dodd would not discuss their meeting. But Rep. Frank alluded to Rep. Pelosi's concerns the day the Senate Banking Committee approved the housing package last month.
"The loan limits will be an issue, because that's very important to the speaker and all of California," Rep. Frank said.
Sources said Rep. Frank indicated Rep. Pelosi felt strongly about the conforming loan limit and likely would amend the bill accordingly. Doing so at least would delay enactment of the legislation — and could kill it altogether.
Lawmakers are rapidly running out of time to pass the bill, which is already under a veto threat from the White House. The meeting was designed to persuade Rep. Frank and the House to accept the Senate version, preventing the bill from ping-ponging between the two chambers.
Sen. Dodd is under pressure to stick closely to a deal he struck with Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Senate Banking Committee's No. 1 Republican. GOP support for the bill is critical in the closely divided Senate, and Sen. Shelby already agreed to raise the conforming loan limit from the Senate bill's initial $550,000 cap.
The Senate bill also was bogged down by procedural difficulties Wednesday. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., used floor time intended for the housing bill to try and force consideration of an unrelated renewable energy tax credit amendment. The move effectively sapped time for the vote on the housing bill and could force Democrats to withdraw it until after the July 4 recess. The effort drew a rebuke from Sen. Dodd, who said debate on the housing bill would take only an hour "and then move this bill off this chamber to the point where the House I think may accept what we've done."
The Senate bill is likely to pass quickly if Sen. Ensign drops his objection. The chamber's 83-9 vote Tuesday to limit debate showed the legislation has significant bipartisan support.