By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Refocusing on the economy, President Barack Obama on Friday pushed Republicans to back housing policies the White House says would help shore up struggling homeowners and prevent foreclosures.
Against the backdrop of a middle-class neighborhood in economically hard-hit Nevada, Obama touted steps his administration has already taken to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. But the president said he needed help from lawmakers in order to expand the refinancing efforts.
"There are things that we can do right now to help create jobs, to help restore some of the financial security that so many families have lost," Obama said. "But I have to say that there are a few too many Republicans in Congress who don't seem to be as optimistic as we are."
With Nevada voters up for grabs in the November election, Obama also drew a contrast with Republican Mitt Romney's plan for the nation's struggling housing market. While never mentioning Romney by name, the president criticized his rival and others in GOP for saying the government should allow the housing market to "hit bottom and hope for the best."
Seeking to put a real face on the nation's housing woes, Obama met earlier Friday with Reno homeowners Paul and Val Keller. The White House said the couple had benefited from executive action Obama took to make it easier to refinance a mortgage and is now saving $250 a month.
"That's real money," Obama said during a kitchen table chat at the Keller home.
Administration officials said refinancing applications have increased nationwide by 50 percent since Obama made it easier to refinance. In Nevada, which ranks second in the nation in foreclosed homes, officials said refinancing applications were up by about 230 percent.
But Obama said his administration is limited in the action it can take on its own.
Earlier this year, he proposed legislation that would lower lending rates for millions of borrowers who have not been able to get out from under burdensome mortgages. Obama would pay for the estimated $5 billion to $10 billion cost with a fee on large banks. The plan faces an uphill fight in Congress. The White House says it would not insist on the bank fees as a means to finance the plan.
Obama's shift back to the economy ended a week dominated by his public embrace of same-sex marriage. He followed up his historic, yet politically risky, announcement with a day of West Coast fundraising, including a gala event at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney on Thursday night that raised nearly $15 million.
Obama won Nevada in his 2008 presidential election. But the economy presents new challenges as well as an opportunity for rival Romney.
Four years ago, Nevada was reeling from the recession, and Obama and union allies seized on the anxiety to mobilize voters and win the state. Today, the Nevada is still in dire straits and the economy belongs to the president.
Nevada's unemployment rate was 12 percent in March, the worst in the nation. As of last month, Nevada's foreclosure rate trailed only Arizona among states. And the Nevadans most affected by the state's poor economy are the very voters who rallied behind Obama four years ago.