Bush signs housing bill in private, after calling it 'socialistic'
John Byrne
Published: Wednesday July 30, 2008

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In a seeming effort to blunt attention to the fact he was signing a bill he once rebuked as socialistic, President George W. Bush quietly approved a massive mortgage rescue bill shortly after 7 a.m. in the Oval Office and announced his signature by email.

"Only a few aides and administration officials were present, including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Steve Preston and James B. Lockhart III, the Director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO)," Politico's Mike Allen remarked. "The White House announced the signing by e-mail moments later."

A senior Bush official told Allen the Administration had no desire to herald the Democrats who shepherded the bill through their congressional committees, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).

Typically bills are accompanied by a signing ceremony, replete with souvenir pens.

"Bush initially vowed to veto the bill as being overly socialistic," Allen notes. "He finally dropped his objection when he decided that it was better than nothing. In a rare split, House Republicans opposed the bill and business interests like home builders and bankers favored it."

The White House had said there would be no bill-signing event, with one administration official noting ruefully that they had no desire to trumpet

The measure, regarded as the most significant housing legislation in decades, lets homeowners who cannot afford their payments refinance into more affordable government-backed loans rather than losing their homes.

It offers a temporary financial lifeline to troubled mortgage companies Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) and tightens controls over the two government-sponsored businesses.

The House passed the bill a week ago; the Senate voted Saturday to send it to the president.

Bush didn't like the version emerging from Congress, and initially said he would veto it, particularly over a provision containing $3.9 billion in neighborhood grants. He contended the money would benefit lenders who helped cause the mortgage meltdown, encouraging them to foreclose rather than work with borrowers.

But he withdrew that threat early last week, saying hurting homeowners could not wait - and even blaming the Democratic Congress' delays in action for forcing an imperfect solution.

“We look forward to put in place new authorities to improve confidence and stability in markets, and to provide better oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in a statement. "The Federal Housing Administration will begin to implement new policies intended to keep more deserving American families in their homes.”