Barack Obama
Susan Walsh  /  AP
President Barack Obama greets people after arriving at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011. Obama is on a three-day trip to the West Coast.
updated 10/24/2011 6:31:23 PM ET 2011-10-24T22:31:23

President Barack Obama offered mortgage relief on Monday to hundreds of thousands of Americans, his latest attempt to ease the economic and political fallout of a housing crisis that has bedeviled him as he seeks a second term.

"I'm here to say that we can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job," the president declared outside a family home in Las Vegas, the epicenter of foreclosures and joblessness. "Where they won't act, I will."

Making a case for his policies and a new effort to circumvent roadblocks put up by Republican lawmakers, Obama also laid out a theme for his re-election, saying that there's "no excuse for all the games and the gridlock that we've been seeing in Washington."

White House tries new tack on housing
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"People out here don't have a lot of time or a lot of patience for some of that nonsense that's been going on in Washington," he said.

The new rules for federally guaranteed loans represent a recognition that measures the administration has taken so far on housing have not worked as well as expected.

His jobs bill struggling in Congress, Obama tried a new catchphrase — "We can't wait" — to highlight his administrative initiatives and to shift blame to congressional Republicans for lack of action to boost employment and stimulate an economic recovery.

Later in the week, Obama plans to announce measures to make it easier for college graduates to pay back federal loans. Such executive action allows Obama to address economic ills and other domestic challenges in spite of Republican opposition to most of his proposals.

While Obama has proposed prodding the economy with payroll tax cuts and increased spending on public works and aid to states, he has yet to offer a wholesale overhaul of the nation's housing programs. Economists point to the burst housing bubble as the main culprit behind the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, the combination of unemployment, depressed wages and mortgages that exceed house values has continued to put a strain on the economy.

While the White House tried to avoid predicting how many homeowners would benefit from the revamped refinancing program, the Federal Housing Finance Administration estimated an additional 1 million people would qualify. Moody's Analytics say the figure could be as high as 1.6 million.

A guide to the new mortgage-refi plan

Under Obama's proposal, homeowners who are still current on their mortgages would be able to refinance no matter how much their home value has dropped below what they still owe.

"Now, over the past two years, we've already taken some steps to help folks refinance their mortgages," Obama said, listing a series of measures. "But we can do more."

At the same time, Obama acknowledged that his latest proposal will not do all that's not needed to get the housing market back on its feet. "Given the magnitude of the housing bubble, and the huge inventory of unsold homes in places like Nevada, it will take time to solve these challenges," he said.

In spelling out the plan to homeowners in a diverse, working-class Las Vegas neighborhood, Obama chose a state that provides the starkest example of the toll the housing crisis has exacted from Americans. One in every 118 homes in the state of Nevada received a foreclosure notice in September, the highest ratio in the country, according to the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac.

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Presidential spokesman Jay Carney criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for proposing last week while in Las Vegas that the government not interfere with foreclosures. "Don't try to stop the foreclosure process," Romney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Let it run its course and hit the bottom."

"That is not a solution," Carney told reporters on Air Force One. He said Romney would tell homeowners, "'You're on your own, tough luck.'"

The president also was using his visit to Las Vegas to promote a $15 billion neighborhood revitalization plan contained in his current jobs proposal that would help redevelop abandoned and foreclosed properties and stabilize affected neighborhoods.

Barack Obama
Jewel Samad  /  AFP - Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks on economy and housing at a residential neighborhood in Las Vegas.

The Nevada stop was the first leg of a three-day tour of Western states, blending his pitch for boosting the economy with an aggressive hunt for campaign cash.

From Nevada, Obama will head for the glamor of Hollywood and the homes of movie stars Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas and producer James Lassiter for some high-dollar fundraising. On Tuesday, he will tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. He will also raise money in San Francisco and in Denver.

Before the president addressed his mortgage refinancing plan, he attended a fundraiser at the luxurious Bellagio hotel, offering a sharp contrast between well-to-do who are fueling his campaign and the struggling homeowners hoping to benefit from his policies.

The mortgage assistance plan by the Federal Housing Finance Administration will help borrowers with little or no equity in their homes, many of whom are stuck with 6 or 7 percent mortgage rates, to seek refinancing and take advantage of lower rates. The FHFA plans to remove caps that had allowed homeowners to refinance only if they owed up to 25 percent more than their homes are worth.

The refinancing program is being extended until the end of 2013. It was originally scheduled to end in June 2012.

A guide to the new mortgage-refi plan

The administration's incremental steps to help homeowners have prompted even the president's allies to demand more aggressive action.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a moderate Democrat from California, gave voice to Democratic frustration on the housing front last week when he announced his decision not to seek re-election, blaming the Obama administration directly for not addressing the crisis.

"I am dismayed by the administration's failure to understand and effectively address the current housing foreclosure crisis," Cardoza said in a statement that drew widespread attention. "Home foreclosures are destroying communities and crushing our economy, and the administration's inaction is infuriating."

Obama's new "We can't wait" slogan is his latest in a string of stump-speech refrains he hopes will pressure Republicans who oppose his $447 billion jobs package. He initially exhorted Congress to "Pass this bill!" then demanded "I want it back," all in the face of unanimous Republican opposition in the Senate, though even some Democrats were unhappy with the plan.

Video: Obama takes action without Congress

Obama has now agreed to break the proposal into its component parts and seek congressional approval one measure at a time. The overall proposal would increase taxes on millionaires, lower payroll taxes on workers and businesses for a year, pay for bridge, road and school construction projects, and help states and local governments retain teachers and emergency workers.

The proposals with the best chance of passage are the payroll tax cuts and extensions in jobless insurance to the long-term unemployed.

Countering Obama's criticism, GOP leaders say the sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment rate are the result of failed Obama administration policies.

"It's another day in the campaign life of President Obama, and he's bringing his re-election tour to Nevada, ground zero for the damaging effects of his failed economic policies," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama introduces new foreclosure plan

  1. Transcript of: Obama introduces new foreclosure plan

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Under pressure to fix the economy and help those Americans who've been dragged under water by it, the president today offered a fix for the housing crisis and those Americans who are struggling to stay ahead of the game and keep their homes. The president says he's going to put out pieces of his economic plan instead of one big package because of the gridlock in Washington . The election season backdrop is, of course, unavoidable, and so the president's choice of a backdrop today was notable. NBC 's Kristen Welker traveling with the president in Nevada tonight and starts us off from there. Kristen , good evening.

    KRISTEN WELKER reporting: Good evening, Brian . The unemployment rate here in Nevada is above 13 percent, so this state is up for grabs in 2012 . Earlier today President Obama announced help for homeowners here in this Las Vegas neighborhood. President Obama on the road again, accusing a divided Congress of foot dragging.

    President BARACK OBAMA: We can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job.

    WELKER: The president used the power of his office and the optics of a suburban street to sidestep lawmakers, announcing the expansion of a mortgage refinancing program.

    Pres. OBAMA: Now, this is a painful burden for middle-class families and it's also a drag on our economy. When a home loses its value, a family loses a big chunk of their wealth.

    WELKER: The plan, starting December 1st , specifically targets homeowners with underwater mortgages, who owe more than their homes are currently worth. Those who have mortgages owned or guaranteed by government lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac , loans made on or before May 31st , 2009 , and are current on their payments for the past six months with no more than one late payment in the last year. The program would allow homeowners to refinance, no matter how much they owe, eliminate appraisals and many underwriting requirements, and waive many of the expensive up-front fees. Government officials were hesitant to say how many homeowners are eligible. One estimated as many as four million, while independent economists estimated as few as 250,000. The government acknowledges the program will not help the six million Americans already facing or in foreclosure.

    Secretary SHAUN DONOVAN (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development): We've got to do more to help the communities that have been hardest hit, that are struggling with vacant and foreclosed properties.

    WELKER: Las Vegas resident Dennis Smith is nearing retirement but feels trapped by his mortgage. He thinks he could save as much as $500 a month with this program.

    Mr. DENNIS SMITH: It's a very, very stressful situation for my generation who has always looked at the home as a safe investment and only to find out that today it isn't.

    WELKER: While some believe the program is a step in the right direction , they also say it doesn't get at the heart of the housing crisis.

    Mr. MARK VITNER (Wells Fargo Senior Economist): It doesn't really help people sell their homes. And that's a big part of the problem that we have right now.

    WELKER: Now, administration officials here admit this program doesn't get at the far-reaching and complicated housing crisis in its entirety. They say they will be unveiling new economic initiatives in the coming days and weeks.

    Brian: Kristen Welker in Las Vegas starting us off tonight, thanks.



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