President Obama urges Congress to support his plan to expand government assistance to U.S. homeowners; plan would make it easier for more borrowers to refinance their mortgages at record-low rates

Cindy Allen

Cindy Allen

Feb 6, 2012 – Associated Press

WASHINGTON , February 6, 2012 () – President Barack Obama is rallying support for his plan to expand government assistance to homeowners, pressuring Congress to help lower lending rates for millions of strapped homeowners.

Obama, in his radio and Internet address Saturday, urged the public to "get on the phone, send an email, tweet," and visit with their lawmakers about his housing proposal to lower lending rates for millions of homeowners.

"They're the ones who have to pass this plan. And as anyone who has followed the news in the last six months can tell you, getting Congress to do anything these days is not an easy job," Obama said.

Obama outlined the housing plan on Wednesday, asking Congress to approve legislation that would make it easier for more borrowers to refinance their loans. The proposal would create a new program through the Federal Housing Administration that would have the government assume the risk for the new mortgages.

The president wants to pay for the plan, which is expected to cost $5 billion to $10 billion, by placing a fee on the nation's largest banks, a move that faces long odds in Congress.

The plan would allow an eligible homeowner to refinance a loan through the FHA, which would guarantee the new loan, assuming the risk if the borrower should default. The fee on large banks would finance the FHA's insurance fund.

The administration estimates that 3.5 million borrowers with privately held mortgages would have enough of an incentive to refinance their mortgages. In his address, Obama said he would be "the first to admit" that previous efforts by his administration "didn't help as many folks as we'd hoped. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying."

"What this plan will do is help millions of responsible homeowners who make their payments every month, but who, until now, couldn't refinance because their home values kept dropping or they got wrapped up in too much red tape," Obama said, urging listeners to tell Congress to "pass this plan."

Republicans say they want Obama's help in passing a payroll tax cut extension for a full year and proposals to expand energy production and repair and rebuild roads and bridges.

Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., said in the Republican address that their energy and infrastructure agenda would create more than a million private-sector jobs, "not by wasting your money on pork-barrel projects and so-called 'stimulus' spending, but by removing government barriers that are getting in the way of American job growth."

Meehan said the nation's unemployment rate had exceeded 8 percent for the past three years, "the longest stretch since the Great Depression."

The White House and congressional leaders are expected to discuss plans to avoid letting a 2-percentage-point cut in the Social Security payroll tax expire before the end of the month. The tax cut reaches 160 million Americans.

Meehan said Democrats "have a responsibility to tell the nation what they're prepared to do to extend the payroll tax cut for a full year and give middle-class families and small businesses much-needed certainty."

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