Friday November 27th, 2015 5:04AM

Mortgage bill faces tough road in Congress

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A sharply divided Congress isn't likely to jump at President Barack Obama's challenge for quick passage of a mortgage refinancing bill that supporters say could help millions of homeowners save big each year and boost the economy.

Obama praised the legislation in his State of the Union speech last week, saying the proposal would help more homeowners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac take advantage of low interest rates and refinance their loans.

Even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, Obama said, too many families that have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being turned down.

"That's holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it," the president said. "Right now, there's a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today's rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before."

The economy's slow recovery from the recession gives the idea urgency, Obama said. "Send me that bill," he told members of Congress listening to his speech in the House chamber.

The proposal is part of a push by Democrats and the White House to help homeowners take advantage of low interest rates as a way to help the housing market recover and to give the economy a shot in the arm.

While the bill could gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it faces a rough road in the GOP-run House, where many Republicans favor scaling back the government's role in the housing market as a way of aiding the economy. Similar versions of the measure died in the House and Senate's lame duck sessions last year.

"At the moment, it's an uphill battle," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who plans to file the House version of the bill.

Welch said he will reach out to Republicans this year in hopes of building more support, but the bill's association with the government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal housing agencies partly blamed for the collapse of the housing market, hurts its support base among GOP lawmakers.

"The American taxpayers have already sunk $190 billion dollars into the operations of Fannie and Freddie," said Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, a member of the House Financial Services Committee. "It's time that we wind their operations down instead of using them as a piggy bank for failed programs that further delay the housing recovery. "

In the Senate, Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Barbara Boxer of California have legislation to aid borrowers who are current on their loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but who are not able to refinance because their home values have declined too much.

Nearly 12 million homeowners have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans and stand to benefit refinancing, the two senators said. Many can't refinance at a lower rate because of red tape and high fees. The red tape has reduced competition among banks, so borrowers pay higher interest rates than they would if they were able to shop around more, according to the senators.

The bill also would reduce up-front fees that borrowers pay on refinances and eliminate appraisal costs for all borrowers. The measure seeks to expand the Obama administration's Home Affordable Refinancing Program, which saves an average homeowner about $2,500 per year, they said.

"Homeowners will have more money in their pockets, Fannie and Freddie will see fewer foreclosures, and the housing market and economy will continue building momentum," Boxer said.

Among the bill's supporters are the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders.

"It is another tool that can be out there to help stabilize the housing market and kick start the economy if consumers can, in fact, put another $100 bucks in their pockets every month," said John Hudson, government affairs chairman of the Association of Mortgage Professionals.

Similar proposals by Boxer and Menendez last year got bogged down in the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Republican attempts to add amendments on other housing issues beyond refinancing led to a stalemate.

Twenty Senate Democrats are co-sponsors of this year's bill, but no Republicans have signed on.

"I support finding ways to smartly streamline the refinance process, but I'm not sure that eliminating all documentation requirements makes sense," said GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a committee member. "I also think we need to quickly move beyond short-term stimulus and start focusing on the structural issues in our housing finance system."

Sen. Mike Crapo, the committee's top Republican, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the bill.

Welch's House bill also died during the last Congress. Welch accused Republicans of not wanting to give Obama an election-year boost by passing the mortgage refinance measure.

"Last year was even tougher because it was an election year," said Welch. "The Republican leadership wanted Obama to fail."
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
White House undergoes Thanksgiving Day lockdown after man draped in American flag jumps fence
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man draped in an American flag climbed over the fence at the White House on Thursday, prompting a lockdown as the first family celebrated Thanksgiving.The man was immediately appre...
10:11PM ( 6 hours ago )
Obama grants reprieve to turkeys 'Honest' and 'Abe' during White House ceremony
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama spared two turkeys named for one of the nation's most admired presidents, continuing a White House tradition that provides a refreshing sense of amusement and...
9:18PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: UN Security Council strongly condemns 'horrifying' attack in Mali, urges probe
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):___4:55 a.m.The U.N. Security Council is condemning "the horrifying terrorist attack" at the...
10:58PM ( 6 days ago )
World leaders vow vigorous response to Paris terror spree, but little indication of next steps
ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) — World leaders vowed a vigorous response to the Islamic State group's terror spree in Paris as they opened a two-day meeting in Turkey on Sunday, with President Barack Obama call...
2:14PM ( 1 week ago )
Rash of E. coli cases in Pacific Northwest highlights problem of foodborne illnesses
SEATTLE (AP) — As Chipotle prepares to reopen its restaurants in the Pacific Northwest this week after an E. coli outbreak that sickened about 45 people, health experts say foodborne illnesses are mor...
1:40AM ( 2 weeks ago )