Ryan's One True Claim Isn't

Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. gestures during a walk through ahead of his delivering a speec
Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. gestures during a walk through ahead of his delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Paul Ryan's acceptance speech is not getting good reviews for strict adherence to the narrowest version of the truth. Dave Weigel offered a "listicle" of Ryan's "whoppers." Think Progress listed the "6 Worst Lies in Paul Ryan's Speech."

But somehow Ryan's attack on the Obama Administration's housing policies has not shown up on the lists.

Ezra Klein scoured Ryan's speech for "the explicit purpose of finding claims that we could add to the 'true' category," which Klein defined as attacks on Obama's record "that were based on a reasonable reading of the facts, and that weren't missing obviously key context."

"And I did find one," Klein said. "He was right to say that the Obama Administration has been unable to correct the housing crisis, though the force of that criticism is somewhat blunted by the fact that neither Ryan nor Mitt Romney have proposed an alternative housing policy."

I'm sorry, but with "obviously key context," Ryan's attack on President Obama's housing policy belongs on the list of whoppers.

I have a pretty good idea what legislation in the last decade could have "corrected" the housing crisis, and what legislation made it worse. Ryan voted wrong every time.

Let's start with a vote that wasn't obviously about housing. Probably the most obnoxiously lopsided special-interest law enacted in the last decade was the Bankruptcy Abuse Reform Act of 2005. The law was a wish list for the financial industry.

What does that law have to do with housing? Before the law, middle-class families that were head over heels in debt could file for bankruptcy, pay what they could and get a "fresh start" without losing their home. After the law went into effect in October, 2005, a "means test" and other provisions kept families with equity in their home from getting relief in bankruptcy. Desperate families had no way to pay their bills except by borrowing against their home. Subprime mortgages spiked. And when the housing bubble burst, many homeowners who had borrowed against their homes to pay their bills owed more on their homes than their homes were worth.

Too many Democrats voted for the law (72 for and 126 against) but every last Republican voted for it, including Ryan.

The subprime mortgages that caused the housing crisis were a disgrace. By the middle of the last decade, almost all subprime mortgages were predatory. Subprime mortgages were loaded with upfront fees and costs that stripped homeowners of the equity in their homes as the housing bubble inflated and trapped homeowners in a cycle of refinancing repeatedly until all their equity was gone. After we won control in 2006, House Democrats finally got legislation to the floor to reform predatory subprime mortgages in 2007. We had to compromise more than I wanted to win Republican support, and to win the support of some Democrats. We got every Democratic vote, and we got 67 Republican votes. But 127 House Republicans, including Ryan, stuck with the subprime industry.

That bill went to the Senate and was never heard from again, so we tried again two years later. The 2009 version was a stronger bill than the 2007 version. The foreclosure crisis was well underway by then and the abuses of subprime mortgages were even more obvious. We got 239 Democratic votes for the bill, and lost three. We got 61 Republican votes, many from districts devastated by foreclosures, but 111 Republicans still stuck with the subprime mortgage industry, including Ryan.

According to most accounts of the Obama Administration's housing policy, including Ezra Klein's, the best opportunity to mitigate the foreclosure crisis was the proposal to allow judicial modifications of mortgages in bankruptcy, or "cramdown." It took a heroic effort by House Democratic Leadership in 2009 to pass watered-down legislation over the fierce opposition of the lending industry. We got 227 Democratic votes for the bill, not all of whom were cheerful about it, and we lost 23 Democrats. We got seven Republican votes, almost all from communities that were devastated by foreclosures, and we lost 168 Republicans, including Ryan.

There is plenty to criticize in the Obama Administration's housing policy. But Ryan's criticism doesn't meet Ezra Klein's definition of "true."

Ryan's criticism of the Obama Administration's housing policy is the one "true" criticism on Klein's scorecard. Klein said he wanted to "bend over backwards" to be fair to Ryan, but that bends too far. On my scorecard, Ryan's criticism of the Obama housing policy is on the list of whoppers.