IT'S NOT HARD to start a partisan fight in Washington these days. But if you really want to see the fur fly, just gather a few Republicans and Democrats and get them arguing about how much blame Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac deserve for the 2008 economic collapse. To the GOP, the culpability of the government-sponsored mortgage finance enterprises (GSEs), whose bailout has so far cost taxpayers nearly $150 billion, is self-evident - proof that Washington wrecked capitalism. For Democrats, Republican vilification of Washington-based GSEs, and their mission of affordable public housing, is intended to whitewash the true culprit, Wall Street.
The latest round in this blame game began on Dec. 15, when Republican members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission published an analysis blaming government subsidies for inflating the subprime mortgage bubble - to which liberals responded that Fannie and Freddie had followed, not led, Wall Street into the risky subprime business.