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Obama’s Housing Plan Skips Congress

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama greets people Monday after disembarking from Air Force One at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Obama chose the foreclosure-ridden area to announce his new housing policies to help boost the economy.

With the president’s jobs bill going nowhere and Congressional Democrats increasingly frustrated, the White House is taking the initiative, starting with housing.

Republicans have shown little interest in giving President Barack Obama the significant new stimulus package that he has been barnstorming the country to tout. So the White House has added to its job-creation push a series of administrative actions intended to boost the economy — albeit modestly — on its own.

“We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” Obama said in prepared remarks Monday. “Where they won’t act, I will.”

Dubbed “We Can’t Wait” by the White House, the new push started with the announcement of a plan to streamline a housing refinance program that has woefully underperformed early estimates.

The initiative comes after three years in which numerous federal housing programs pushed primarily by Democrats have failed to dent the $7 trillion in home equity that was wiped out by the 2008 financial crisis. The White House rollout arrives amid growing frustration among rank-and-file Democrats who have for months wanted a far bolder approach to the issue.

Though the administration has long been planning to unveil its new housing policies as part of Obama’s trip this week to foreclosure-riddled Nevada, tensions on housing policy came to a head in a Senate Democratic Conference meeting Thursday.

In a back-and-forth session with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who was ostensibly invited to speak on the global effects of the financial crisis in Europe, rank-and-file Democrats pushed the top economic official to address the domestic housing crisis. Bernanke promised then that new policies would be announced this week.

Leaving that meeting, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Members have begun to believe that any significant plan for economic recovery will have to include more help for the housing market. He said attempts by Congress and the administration to address housing in 2008 and 2009 “haven’t been that successful” because they were not “dramatic” enough.

“And that was a long period of just like, ‘Do no harm, the housing crisis will work its way through the snake’ — it just hasn’t,” Warner said. “There’s a growing recognition that that is a huge overhang on our economy, and we were pressing pretty hard on that.”

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), who represents a district hit hard by foreclosures, has also ripped the administration repeatedly and called its inaction “infuriating” when he announced his decision not to run for re-election last week.

For Congressional Democrats, the White House’s move Monday — one part politics, one part exasperation with partisan gridlock in Congress — is nice, but not nearly enough.

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