WASHINGTON Dec 13 A top U.S. Senate Democrat on
Thursday said he would push for a vote on a bill aimed at
placing the U.S. Federal Housing Administration on firmer
financial footing before lawmakers leave Washington for the
In a letter obtained by Reuters, Senate Banking Committee
Chairman Tim Johnson said he was calling on his colleagues to
bypass the usual committee process and back the bill with a
speedy vote. The legislation has already passed the House of
Representatives and would go straight to President Barack Obama
for his signature if the Senate approves it.
"I believe this is a necessary and responsible step to
protect the taxpayers given the short amount of time left in the
legislative session," Johnson said in the letter to Republican
Representative Spencer Bachus.
The FHA backs 15 percent of all U.S. mortgages used for home
purchases. The agency, a main source of funding for first-time
home buyers and those with modest income, provides liquidity to
the housing market by insuring lenders against losses on loans.
It is facing a projected $16.3 billion deficit in its
insurance fund, which has raised concerns it will need a
taxpayer bailout. The bill is aimed at reducing the FHA's need
for a cash infusion from the U.S. Treasury Department.
The legislation, which cleared the House on a strong
bipartisan vote, would set a minimum rate for the annual
premiums paid for mortgage insurance, allow the FHA to exclude
poorly performing lenders from the program and tighten the
agency's oversight of delinquent loans, among other measures.
It is unclear whether the measure has enough support to pass
the Senate. Some Republican senators believe it falls short of
what is needed to prevent the FHA from going to the Treasury for