I made a round of phone calls Saturday and Sunday to congressional leaders, as well as to senior fi nancial industry executives, outlining our actions and the importance of stabilizing Fannie and Freddie. Just about everyone was supportive, even congratulatory, although I do remember Chris Dodd being a little put out when I talked to him a second time, on Sunday.
"Whatever happened to your bazooka, Hank?" he asked.
I explained that I had never thought I'd have to use the emergency powers Congress had given me in July, but given the state of affairs at the GSEs, I'd had no choice. Still, I knew I would have to spend some time with Chris to make him feel more comfortable.
After the Fannie board meeting, I received a call I'd been expecting most of the day. Word had gotten out that I'd talked to Palin, so I'd been thinking, Joe Biden's bound to call, too. And, sure enough, he did. The predictability of it gave me my one good laugh of the day, but the Democratic vice presidential candidate was on top of the issue; he understood the nature of the problem we faced and supported our strong actions.
Sunday morning at 11:00, Jim Lockhart and I officially unveiled the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rescue with a statement to the press. I described four key steps we were taking: FHFA would place the companies into conservatorship; the government would provide up to $100 billion to each company to backstop any capital shortfalls; Treasury would establish a new secured lending credit facility for Fannie and Freddie and would begin a temporary program to buy mortgage-backed securities they guaranteed, to boost the housing market.
I wanted to cut through all the complex fi nance and get to the heart of our actions and what they meant for Americans and their families. The GSEs were so big and so interwoven into the fabric of the fi nancial system that a failure of either would mean grave distress throughout the world.
"This turmoil," I said, "would directly and negatively impact household wealth: from family budgets, to home values, to savings for college and retirement. A failure would affect the ability of Americans to get home loans, auto loans, and other consumer credit and business fi nance. And a failure would be harmful to economic growth and job creation."
It would also have major international financial ramifications.
Among the many financial leaders I spoke to that day were my old friends Zhou Xiaochuan, the head of the central bank of China, and Wang Qishan, vice premier in charge of China's financial and economic affairs. It was important to relay what was going on to the Chinese, who owned a vast quantity of U.S. securities, including hundreds of billions of dollars of GSE debt. They had trusted our assurances and held on to this paper at a crucial time in a shaky market. Fortunately, I knew both men well, and we had been able to speak frankly to one another throughout the crisis.
"I always said we'd live up to our obligations," I reminded Wang. "We take them seriously."
"You're doing everything you know how to," Wang said, adding that the Chinese would continue to hold their positions. He congratulated me on our moves but struck a cautious note: "I know you think this may end all of your problems, but it may not be over yet."