Something odd happened this week. Democratic leaders pushed for action that could easily damage President Obama's chances for reelection -- a freeze on foreclosures, which shocked even some Democrats. Democratic strategist Doug Schoen says "The congressional leadership made a decision that if they can get some short term political benefit from a freeze on foreclosures they are willing to put the economy at risk, certainly president's economic and political fortunes at risk, to try to win votes."
Why would leading Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others push a freeze in spite of the consequences?Schoen says with an election coming -- they're desperate. "It was a long ball, a Hail Mary pass in the final three weeks of a midterm election campaign that is looking increasingly bleak."
Some critics have tried to make it look like bad paperwork invalidates all foreclosures.
But analysts and officials dispute that. They say the paperwork problems must be fixed, but that most of the foreclosures are in fact justified, even overdue.
"There's been a lot of flare in the media about this issue, says Ed Demarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. "The concern is justifiable but i also think we need to keep our sense of proportion."
Demarco now oversees half of all the mortgages in the country, which are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He just sent mortgage lenders a letter telling them to review all paperwork and fix any that's deficient.
But once they determine foreclosure is warranted, he advised, "proceed without delay."
And he thinks most have been warranted. "We basically do not have evidence that people are getting foreclosed upon that are otherwise paying their mortgage or having made proper steps towards a remediation of a delinquency."
In fact, the average length of a foreclosure nationally is some 17 months, a long time for no mortgage payments.
Anthony Sanders of George Mason University takes it even further. "Virtually all of them were legitimate foreclosures, he says, because the people had defaulted and banks gave them months and months to try to rectify the problem."
Several major lenders, JP Morgan Chase, Ally/GMAC and Bank of America have suspended foreclosures, but only temporarily.
And Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan says" We have to clear the air. We haven't found any problems in the foreclosure process and what we're trying to do is clear the air and say we'll go back and check our work one more time."
Temporary halts by several lenders while the review the paperwork has taken some of the wind out of the freeze movement.
No one minimizes the paperwork problems, for which the banks are likely to be sanctioned and/or fined.
But that doesn't change a fundamental fact -- foreclosures are justified when people don't pay. And necessary to help the economy recover. And only fair to those who are paying.