Maxine Wants Revenge

"La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froide" (“revenge is a dish best served cold”) is an oft-cited proverb from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, published in 1782. A good line in a book or play, but a mentality that should have no place in the business of public policy. Such is not the case.

Last month an elected representative publicly stated that revenge is a part of her motivation and agenda when Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) told a constituent gathering in Los Angeles that she is “going to do to you what you did to us.”  The “you” Waters was referring to are players in the mortgage and banking industry. The odd twist here is that Waters is planning revenge on institutions for doing what she herself instructed them to do.

Waters, who was easily re-elected in the 2018 midterms with nearly 76% of votes cast, represents California’s 43rd congressional district which includes much of south-central Los Angeles. She appears poised to chair the House Financial Services Committee when Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives in January.

In a speech at The Proud Bird, a historic restaurant in L.A., Waters made clear her intentions upon assuming the chairmanship:

"I have not forgotten you foreclosed on our houses. I have not forgotten that you undermined our community. I have not forgotten that you sold us those exotic products, had us sign on the line for junk and for mess we could not afford. …What am I going to do you? What I’m going to do you is fair, I’m going to do to you what you did to us!”

A sitting House representative threatening U.S. businesses with retribution is remarkable enough, but retribution for what?

Apart from the dismissal of personal responsibility inherent in the idea that people were somehow forced into purchasing something they couldn’t afford, of note here is how the situation came about in the first place; how citizens of Waters’ community found themselves able to qualify for mortgages that were beyond their financial means. Making such loans is not in a lending institution’s best interests, so why would one do it? The institutions did it because Maxine Waters, among others, forced them to.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s a small cadre of House Democrats, most prominently Waters and Barney Frank (D-MA), worked in cahoots with then-CEO of Fannie Mae, Franklin Raines, to loosen mortgage lending standards and practices for the purpose of making homeownership a reality for a greater number of economically disadvantaged Americans. (Raines was subsequently embroiled in a scandal at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that resulted in him having to pay a record $24.7 million settlement.)

At the time Waters heaped praise upon banks and lending institutions for allowing people to sign on the line for loans they could not afford, saying in a September 2003 hearing of the House Committee on Financial Services:

"Mr. Chairman, we do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac, and in particular at Fannie Mae, under the outstanding leadership of Mr. Frank Raines. Everything in the 1992 act has worked just fine. In fact, the GSEs have exceeded their housing goals. What we need to do today is to focus on the regulator, and this must be done in a manner so as not to impede their affordable housing mission, a mission that has seen innovation flourish from desktop underwriting to 100 percent loans.”

In later comments during the hearing, Waters made clear the true mission for Fannie and Freddie that Democrats had in mind, which was finding ways to get minorities into mortgaged houses even if they could not meet qualification requirements for standard loans, such as the ability to bring a down payment to the closing transaction or to borrow an amount in excess of typical underwriting limits.

“Since the inception of goals from 1993 to 2002, loans to African-Americans increased 219 percent and loans to Hispanics increased 244 percent, while loans to non-minorities increased 62 percent. Additionally, in 2001, 43.1 percent of Fannie Mae’s single-family business served low-and moderate-income borrowers….”

Congressional and public records alike show that at the time Waters was a staunch opponent of anything resembling more oversight of lenders or lending practices; thus, more and more loans were made to those least able to pay them back and most likely to default on them.

And default they have, which brings the story full circle to last month when Waters vowed revenge on those banks and lenders that have “done this” to her constituent communities. Sadly, many in those communities believe it. They believe the reason they lost their homes is because when they fell behind on payments and were foreclosed upon, it was because those big banks forced them to take out a loan they couldn’t afford -- without realizing that their congressional representative forced those banks to lend them the money in the first place.

As for Waters’ accusation of banking having done this “to us,” at last check there have been no foreclosure proceedings brought against her $4.69 million, 8-bedroom, 5-bathroom, 6,100-square-foot West Hollywood mansion.

"La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froide" (“revenge is a dish best served cold”) is an oft-cited proverb from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, published in 1782. A good line in a book or play, but a mentality that should have no place in the business of public policy. Such is not the case.

Last month an elected representative publicly stated that revenge is a part of her motivation and agenda when Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) told a constituent gathering in Los Angeles that she is “going to do to you what you did to us.”  The “you” Waters was referring to are players in the mortgage and banking industry. The odd twist here is that Waters is planning revenge on institutions for doing what she herself instructed them to do.

Waters, who was easily re-elected in the 2018 midterms with nearly 76% of votes cast, represents California’s 43rd congressional district which includes much of south-central Los Angeles. She appears poised to chair the House Financial Services Committee when Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives in January.

In a speech at The Proud Bird, a historic restaurant in L.A., Waters made clear her intentions upon assuming the chairmanship:

"I have not forgotten you foreclosed on our houses. I have not forgotten that you undermined our community. I have not forgotten that you sold us those exotic products, had us sign on the line for junk and for mess we could not afford. …What am I going to do you? What I’m going to do you is fair, I’m going to do to you what you did to us!”

A sitting House representative threatening U.S. businesses with retribution is remarkable enough, but retribution for what?

Apart from the dismissal of personal responsibility inherent in the idea that people were somehow forced into purchasing something they couldn’t afford, of note here is how the situation came about in the first place; how citizens of Waters’ community found themselves able to qualify for mortgages that were beyond their financial means. Making such loans is not in a lending institution’s best interests, so why would one do it? The institutions did it because Maxine Waters, among others, forced them to.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s a small cadre of House Democrats, most prominently Waters and Barney Frank (D-MA), worked in cahoots with then-CEO of Fannie Mae, Franklin Raines, to loosen mortgage lending standards and practices for the purpose of making homeownership a reality for a greater number of economically disadvantaged Americans. (Raines was subsequently embroiled in a scandal at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that resulted in him having to pay a record $24.7 million settlement.)

At the time Waters heaped praise upon banks and lending institutions for allowing people to sign on the line for loans they could not afford, saying in a September 2003 hearing of the House Committee on Financial Services:

"Mr. Chairman, we do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac, and in particular at Fannie Mae, under the outstanding leadership of Mr. Frank Raines. Everything in the 1992 act has worked just fine. In fact, the GSEs have exceeded their housing goals. What we need to do today is to focus on the regulator, and this must be done in a manner so as not to impede their affordable housing mission, a mission that has seen innovation flourish from desktop underwriting to 100 percent loans.”

In later comments during the hearing, Waters made clear the true mission for Fannie and Freddie that Democrats had in mind, which was finding ways to get minorities into mortgaged houses even if they could not meet qualification requirements for standard loans, such as the ability to bring a down payment to the closing transaction or to borrow an amount in excess of typical underwriting limits.

“Since the inception of goals from 1993 to 2002, loans to African-Americans increased 219 percent and loans to Hispanics increased 244 percent, while loans to non-minorities increased 62 percent. Additionally, in 2001, 43.1 percent of Fannie Mae’s single-family business served low-and moderate-income borrowers….”

Congressional and public records alike show that at the time Waters was a staunch opponent of anything resembling more oversight of lenders or lending practices; thus, more and more loans were made to those least able to pay them back and most likely to default on them.

And default they have, which brings the story full circle to last month when Waters vowed revenge on those banks and lenders that have “done this” to her constituent communities. Sadly, many in those communities believe it. They believe the reason they lost their homes is because when they fell behind on payments and were foreclosed upon, it was because those big banks forced them to take out a loan they couldn’t afford -- without realizing that their congressional representative forced those banks to lend them the money in the first place.

As for Waters’ accusation of banking having done this “to us,” at last check there have been no foreclosure proceedings brought against her $4.69 million, 8-bedroom, 5-bathroom, 6,100-square-foot West Hollywood mansion.