Obama to unveil housing plan on campaign swing west

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 24, 2011 2:48 AM
Obama to unveil housing plan on campaign swing west

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will unveil new measures to help struggling U.S. homeowners on Monday in the first leg of a campaign-style swing through western states that may be crucial to his re-election in 2012.

Stymied by Republican resistance to his $447 billion jobs package and tapping into public displeasure with Congress, Obama will propose actions that do not require congressional approval to help the economy, a White House official said.

They include an initiative to help homeowners refinance their mortgages, which Obama will discuss in Nevada, a state hit hard by the housing crisis.

In Colorado, the president will unveil a student loan initiative. He will also attend fundraising events in both states plus California during the three-day trip.

The states on Obama's tour were chosen deliberately.

Each has large populations of Hispanics, a voting bloc Obama's campaign is eager to win over. Nevada and Colorado are "swing states" that alternate allegiance between Republicans and Democrats, making them valuable political prizes in presidential elections. Both could prove critical to Obama's re-election effort.

He will use them as a backdrop to make his latest push to boost the weak economy, which remains the biggest obstacle to his hopes of retaining the presidency. According to the White House official, he will also try out a new slogan to put pressure on Congress: "We can't wait."

Republicans, who are still coalescing around a field of presidential candidates led by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain, accused Obama of focusing more on fundraising than helping the unemployed.

"The president is back to doing what he does best - raising money to save his own job," said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, in a new ad. "Instead of focusing on getting the 14 million unemployed Americans back to work, he's focusing on protecting his own."


Housing is one area that has dogged Obama's efforts to improve the economy.

His administration has been working with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator for mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to find ways to make it easier for borrowers to switch to cheaper loans even if they have little to no equity in their homes.

Obama will highlight the result of that work during his Nevada stop: the FHFA intends to loosen the terms of the two-year-old Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which helps borrowers who have been making mortgage payments on time but have not been able to refinance as their home values have dropped.

The government is also preparing to reduce loan fees that Fannie and Freddie charge and waive fees on borrowers that refinance into loans with shorter terms, according to an administration official.

Lenders could begin refinancing loans under the retooled program as soon as December 1, while loans that exceed the current limit of 125 percent of the property's value will not be able to participate until early next year, according to an official.

Obama's Chicago-based re-election campaign has criticized Romney for his housing proposals, suggesting the theme will be a prominent one in the 2012 presidential race.

Republicans charge, however, that the White House's economic policies as a whole have not been effective.

"Their policies are in place, and they are demonstrably not working," Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said on CNN on Sunday.

Obama is expected to continue unveiling new policies in the coming weeks while pressing Congress to pass parts of his jobs package.

While away from Washington to advocate for his policies, the president is filling his campaign coffers. During his three-day trip out West he will attend a fundraiser in Las Vegas, two in Los Angeles, one in San Francisco, and two in Denver.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and JoAnne Allen; editing by Christopher Wilson)