By a 20-1 vote, the Senate Banking Committee has approved a Federal Housing Administration reform bill that would lower the FHA downpayment requirement to 1.5% and raise the FHA loan limit to $417,000 in high-cost areas.Reforming the FHA is going to be a "big help" in dealing with the mortgage crisis, committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd said after the mark-up of the bill. The chairman also thanked several senators for not offering government-sponsored enterprise amendments during the mark-up session that would raise Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's loan limits and the caps on their mortgage portfolios. The chairman told reporters he plans to mark up a GSE reform bill this fall and will "resist" any GSE amendments when the FHA bill goes to the Senate floor. The FHA reform is silent on the issue of FHA risk-based mortgage insurance premiums. But Sens. Dodd and Wayne Allard, R-Colo., raised concerns about Department of Housing and Urban Development moves to issue a risk-based premium proposal. "HUD seems to feel they have the authority to move forward on their own," Sen. Allard said. "At the very least, I think they need to consult with the Congress and seek out our consent."

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