Top executives from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae told a House panel Thursday that American homeowners enjoy lower mortgage rates and ready access to home loans because of the mortgage agencies.
The executives - Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. chairman Leland C. Brendsel and Federal National Mortgage Association general counsel Robert B. Zoellick - vigorously disputed recent government reports saying that although the agencies received federal advantages worth about $6 billion in 1995, they passed on only two-thirds to the nation's homeowners.
Mr. Brendsel described the conclusions of the government reports as "myths" in his appearance before the House Banking Committee's subcommittee on capital markets, securities, and government-sponsored enterprises.
"Myth No. 1 is that Freddie Mac is funded by American taxpayers," Mr. Brendsel said. "Taxpayers have never paid a single cent to support the public mission fulfilled by Freddie Mac." And they "would not save a single cent if our charter were repealed."
The reports - by the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office, the Department of Treasury, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development - were mandated by a 1992 law but were submitted to Congress only this summer.
Mr. Zoellick said Fannie Mae lowers interest rates for homebuyers, makes housing finance available in all markets, finances affordable housing for low-income families, and pays billions of dollars in federal taxes.
"Given what is being achieved today and what we are planning to achieve tomorrow, the starting point might be to do no harm," Mr. Zoellick said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Formerly a top aide to James Baker, who was Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State under Presidents Reagan and Bush, respectively, Mr. Zoellick now oversees Fannie Mae's lobbying. Fannie Mae chairman James A. Johnson was vacationing in Colorado and did not testify.
Subcommittee Chairman Richard Baker, R-La., solicited the mortgage executives' opinions on several policy options: a cap on the size of their fast-growing home loan portfolios, a change in the way their maximum loan size is set, and the repeal of a line of credit to the Treasury. Mr. Brendsel and Mr. Zoellick expressed measured opposition to each.
Mr. Baker has promised to introduce legislation next year to alter the relationship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the federal government.