Readers may have seen that we cast aspersions on the CBO’s estimate that the Fannie and Freddie rescue program would “probably” cost taxpayers $25 billion. We had noted that the estimate was only through 2009 because that’s how far the authorization extends, but there is no way that Fannie and Freddie will ever be cut loose. Thus an estimate the looked at the liability that was really being taken on, which is open-ended, would come up with considerably higher numbers. A couple of readers stressed that that is how the game is played and the CBO can only opine on bills as written. Hence, legislation is drafted with sunset provisions that everyone knows are a fiction.
Nevertheless. our original view, that the CBO lacks the expertise and resources to estimate what the downside for Fannie and Freddie might be was confirmed by the New York Times:
The proposed government rescue of the nation’s two mortgage finance giants should appear on the federal budget as a $25 billion expense, the independent Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday, but officials conceded that there was no way to really know what, if anything, a bailout might cost taxpayers.
The budget office said the chances were better than even that a rescue would not be needed before the end of 2009 and would not cost any money. But the office also said there was a 5 percent chance that the mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, could lose $100 billion…
The budget office, while acknowledging that the $25 billion was, at best, a rough estimate, did not explain fully how it came up with the figure. The office said it analyzed the companies’ financial statements and consulted with regulators, analysts, market participants and the companies themselves to estimate possible future losses and the amount of any cash injection that might be needed from the Treasury….
Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said lawmakers were generally supportive of the overall rescue plan, but he added that he had doubts about the $25 billion estimate. “Everyone knows it’s just a wild guess,” Mr. DeMint said. “We are either going to spend zero or we’re going to spend a whole lot more than they are talking about.”