- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

May 17

Greenville (S.C.) News on mortgage lending:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be very cautious about loosening mortgage lending standards given the mayhem that was wrought by overzealous lenders during the housing bust that led to the 2008 economic collapse and the Great Recession.

At the time, banks and mortgage companies were willing to lend money to just about anyone who asked, regardless of their ability to pay. Home buyers were presented with a dizzying array of non-traditional mortgage products, including such mind-bogglingly bad ideas as interest-only mortgages and loans valued at more than the homes they bought. It is no wonder that so many Americans found themselves underwater on their mortgages when artificially high home values plummeted.

In the wake of that disaster, lenders - along with the federally backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - began to impose stricter lending rules. Nontraditional products were curtailed. The housing market stabilized. The trouble is, fewer and fewer people have been able to get mortgages, the result being a very sluggish housing market that the Obama administration says is holding back the broader economic recovery.

Eager to promote home sales and add fuel to the recovery, the administration is now on the cusp of backtracking on stringent lending rules for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Among the ideas presented by Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are unwinding a proposed requirement that buyers have a 20 percent down payment for some loans.

… Proponents say the changes will give lenders a sense of stability and encourage them to loosen their own self-imposed standards so that more worthy borrowers can get the loans they need to buy a home. They posit that no one is suggesting a return to the days when a borrower didn’t have to prove his income, had a poor credit score and still could be given an interest-only loan on a home far out of his reach.

Opponents, however, caution that the changes ignore the very reasons the limits were imposed in the first place: The housing bubble not only hurt the housing market, but nearly brought down the entire U.S. economy and plunged the nation into a deep recession whose effects still linger on many families. That is reason for extreme conservatism as lenders and the agencies that back their loans figure out what limits are appropriate …

There is room for easing rules and clarifying requirements, but it needs to be done conservatively. The country cannot risk financing a stronger economic recovery on risky mortgages … A fresh memory is the only protection we have against the government and lenders getting too exuberant about promoting home ownership and losing the sense of caution they have gained since 2008.




May 20

The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on congressional Democrats:

Numerous federal lawmakers expressed serious differences with the White House on a wide range of issues last week. That wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy if they were Republicans.

But they were Democrats - and they appear no longer willing to reflexively back President Barack Obama’s policy positions.

For instance, the administration’s stubborn, protracted refusal to approve completion of the Keystone XL pipeline severely frustrates many congressional Democrats seeking re-election. The administration has failed to make a coherent case for stalling on the project, which by some estimates could create 20,000 American jobs …

High-ranking Democrats also appear increasingly reluctant to stick with the president in his support of embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shenseki. They understandably share most Americans’ disgust over recent revelations about stunning deficiencies in VA health care on Secretary Shenseki’s watch.

The president is also drawing intensifying resistance from fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill for his proposed tax hikes ..

And Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was one of 51 senators who signed a letter sent Thursday to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker objecting to the agency’s exemption of South Korea from a list of nations accused of “dumping” steel exports below cost ..

Clearly, Republicans are no longer the only federal lawmakers finding fault with the administration.

And just as clearly, President Obama, after nearly 5½ years in the White House, finds himself increasingly at odds with Congress.




May 18

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on replacing Common Core:

The state Legislature is on the verge of ditching the national educational standards of Common Core and replacing them with standards developed inside the state. But the motivation for doing so appears to have more to do with politics than the quality of the education the state offers its children.

The state Senate voted May 1 to replace Common Core with state-developed standards beginning with the 2015-16 school year. The bill also would scrap the testing regimen South Carolina has worked with other states to devise and replace it with a new test by next year.

The state House of Representatives already has passed a similar bill.

Opponents of Common Core argue that the standards represent a federal takeover of education. This ignores the fact that grass-roots educators and educational organizations around the nation were involved in drawing up the standards …

But, as noted, improving the quality of education in the state is not the issue.

Harriet Jaworowski, associate superintendent of instruction in the Rock Hill school district recently stated: “I don’t think this is an educational discussion. I think this is a political discussion.”

Opponents of Common Core complain that the states are ceding control of education to the national government. They say that not enough teachers, parents and other members of states’ educational communities were involved in creating the Common Core standards.

Ironically, though, as Rock Hill school board chairman Jim Vining recently noted, state lawmakers have not talked with local school officials at all before voting to dismantle Common Core.

“Our local legislators have been making decisions on Common Core and have not once, to my knowledge, consulted anyone in education in York County,” said Vining.

School districts have invested considerable time, money and effort into implementing Common Core math and reading standards in classrooms across the state for the past three years. The standards would have been fully integrated during the next school year.

The legislation also abandons tests South Carolina has helped create with 21 other states. If the legislation becomes law, South Carolina will have to come up with replacement tests by next year or risk losing its federal waiver from having to comply with rigid provisions of the No Child Left Behind Law.

… Common Core is not simply a set of standards but also of shared classroom techniques and lessons for use by teachers. Many local schools have been bringing those skills and standards into the classroom for more than three years now, and the system is working.

It is not a perfect system … But to throw out Common Core just because it is associated with the federal government? That isn’t about education; it’s all about politics.



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