Obama signs extension for higher FHA loan limits
President Obama signed into law a government spending bill Friday morning effectively reinstalling higher conforming loan limits for the Federal Housing Administration through the end of 2013. The House passed the minibus spending bill 298-121 Thursday afternoon, and the Senate approved it 70-30 Thursday night. Effective Friday, FHA can insure loans up to $729,750 from $625,500 in the most expensive neighborhoods. In 2008, Congress elevated the limits for the FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but expired Oct. 1. The Senate approved an amendment to the bill earlier in the month that would have reinstalled the limits for Fannie and Freddie as well. But a joint appropriations committee cut the government-sponsored enterprises out, leaving the FHA in. By signing the bill, the Obama administration back-tracked somewhat from a white paper put out in February. The paper put forth three options for the housing finance system, precluded by the expiration of the higher conforming loan limits in order to begin ushering private capital back to the market. FHA Acting Commissioner Carole Galante warned senators Thursday that the government should be looking to shrink the FHA market share. "We maintain that it is appropriate to take a step back on the loan limits," Galante said. Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., made the case on the House floor Thursday to reinstall the limits for Fannie and Freddie as well, citing concerns that the housing market is not healthy enough to be taken off the government lifeline. "Even now, private lenders remain incredibly risk-averse, hesitating to provide long-term, fixed-rate mortgages to the vast majority of the market," Campbell said. "Until Congress decides how to move forward with broad reform to fix our broken housing finance system, we should not dismantle the few remaining support systems that are preventing the housing industry from collapsing further." Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., shook his head Thursday, clearly frustrated at the decision his colleagues made. "The white paper and a bill are two very different things," Corker said. "I am absolutely so discouraged at Congress in lacking the courage to deal with this issue that we all know needs to be dealt with." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.