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Vote on big housing bill could come today

House to debate expanded FHA, help for Fannie and Freddie

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The House of Representatives is expected to vote as early as today on a sweeping housing bill that would expand FHA loan guarantee programs by $300 billion and grant the Bush administration's request for authority to provide a capital backstop for mortgage financers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that while there's only a 50-50 chance that Fannie and Freddie will require a government bailout, the price tag could be $25 billion if they do (see story). Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., called the CBO estimate "pretty good news," Reuters reported. In a speech Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said that Fannie and Freddie's ability to continue guaranteeing and purchasing mortgages "is central to the speed with which we emerge from this housing correction and remove the underlying uncertainty in our financial markets and financial institutions." Paulson said that although he "would rather not be in the positi...