Obama to promote new steps to help housing woes

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Seeking to circumvent congressional opposition, President Barack Obama will promote a series of executive branch steps aimed at jumpstarting the economy this week, beginning with new rules to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages.

An administration official said the housing initiative will help homeowners with little or no equity in their homes refinance by cutting the cost of doing so and removing caps for deeply underwater borrowers. The new rules apply to homeowners with federally guaranteed mortgages who are current on their payments.

Obama will discuss the initiative during a meeting with homeowners Monday in Las Vegas, a city hard hit by foreclosures and sagging home prices. One in every 118 homes in the state of Nevada received a foreclosure filing in September, according to the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac.

With the president’s jobs bill struggling in Congress, the White House is refocusing its efforts on steps Obama can take to address the nation’s economic woes without getting lawmakers’ approval. During his three-day trip to the West Coast this week, Obama will use a new catchphrase to try to push Republicans into action: “We can’t wait.”

It’s his latest in a string of slogans aimed at placing blame on Republicans for lack of action on the economy.

GOP leaders counter that the sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment rate are the result of Obama administration policies, including the 2009 stimulus package and financial regulation bill, that have failed.

“They got everything they wanted from Congress the first two years. Their policies are in place. And they are demonstrably not working,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday.

Last month, Obama announced a $447 billion jobs plan, filled with tax increases on the wealthy and new spending on education, infrastructure and aid to state and local governments. Efforts to pass the full measure were blocked by Senate Republicans, who see the president’s proposal as a second stimulus.

That’s left Obama and his Democratic allies pushing lawmakers to pass the bill in individual pieces, though the fate of most of the measures remains unclear.

The housing program Obama will discuss Monday will be implemented by the independent Federal Housing Finance Agency. At its core, the initiative will relax eligibility standards for a federal refinancing program, allowing those who owe more on their house than it is worth to take advantage of loans with lower interest rates.

The administration official had no estimate for how many homeowners could be helped by relaxed rules. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the housing program ahead of the president’s Las Vegas meeting.

Following his events in Nevada, the president will travel to Los Angeles for three fundraisers for his re-election campaign, including one at the home of movie stars Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas. Obama will also make stops this week in San Francisco and Denver.