Republicans seem ready to pounce on allegations that some members of Congress received special mortgage rates from Countrywide Financial, which has been under intense scrutiny for its role in the nationwide housing meltdown.
On Monday Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), said he will ask Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to convene hearings about whether any members of Congress received special breaks on their interest rates because they are lawmakers. Hensarling's request comes after a spate of stories _ first reported by Conde Nast Portfolio _ about how Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), along with other prominent Washington officials, received lower interest rates on their mortgages because they were friends with Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.
Dodd and Conrad have denied that they knew they were receiving any preferential treatment, and Conrad has agreed to donate the $10,700 in savings afforded by his lower interest rate.
But Hensarling, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, says this issue should at least be investigated by an oversight committee in the House. The House has no oversight of senators' ethics, but Hensarling says a committee could look more generally into whether members of Congress have been receiving any special treatment for their mortgages while the rest of the country suffers through a housing implosion.
It's not clear which committee would have jurisdiction, but House Financial Services or Oversight and Government Reform would be logical choices for such an investigation. The Senate Ethics Committee typically does not comment when it starts an investigation.
"With all of the recent turmoil we have been experiencing in our mortgage market, I am concerned about allegations of preferential treatment afforded to some individuals in Congress regarding their mortgages," Hensarling said in a letter to Republican colleagues today. "Although these reports are still merely allegations, it is disconcerting to think members of Congress might be knowingly or unknowingly receiving preferential treatment while millions of hardworking Americans struggle to repay their mortgage debts and cope with $4/gallon gasoline and soaring foods prices."