Bush presses Congress on housing

July 1, 2008 2:49:27 PM PDT
President Bush expressed confidence Tuesday he will reach a deal with Congress on a housing-rescue plan but prodded lawmakers to show "less politics." The president's comments came as many homeowners are saddled with mortgage payments they can no longer afford and facing foreclosure. The Senate is considering a $300 billion plan to back cheaper loans for people who risk losing their home, but that measure has stalled for now.

"I think we can get us a bill," Bush said. "But it's going to require less politics and more focus."

He spoke at a credit-counseling agency in Arkansas that helps people saddled with debt.

Senate leaders hope soon to get back to the bill after their weeklong break; it has been snagged over an unrelated dispute about tax breaks and renewable energy.

The legislation includes elements Bush supports, including an overhaul of the Federal Housing Administration. But the White House opposes parts of the rescue plan, too.

Bush also sounded an upbeat tone about the slumping economy.

"I'm confident in the long run, America is going to be just fine," he said.

The economy has been battered by housing, credit and financial problems. Consumers responded in the first quarter by spending at the weakest pace since the 2001 recession.

The combination of weak housing sales, falling home values, tighter lending and the weak economy has forced many strapped homeowners into foreclosure. Many can't find buyers, or they owe more than their home is worth and can't get refinanced into an affordable loan.

Nationwide, 261,255 homes received at least one foreclosure-related filing in May - up 48 percent from a year ago, according tot he foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc.

Bush made his quick stop at the nonprofit housing agency in between two fundraisers.

By dropping in a bit of official business, the White House defrayed the cost of the trip for candidates and state parties and made the trip less overtly political. Ultimately, taxpayers end up paying most of the bill for any political travel by the president.

In Mississippi, Bush led a closed fundraiser for Sen. Roger Wicker, the former congressman who was appointed to Trent Lott's vacated seat. Wicker is competing in a Nov. 4 election against Democrat Ronnie Musgrove to fill the remaining four years of Lott's term.

Wicker's campaign manager, Austin Barbour, said no fundraising totals were available for the Mississippi event. But with roughly 500 people attending the $1,000-a-ticket luncheon, the total raised was expected to be at least $500,000 for Wicker and other state Republicans.

Wicker was among the Republicans who bucked Bush in this election year by voting for the farm bill. The president said the massive $290 billion bill was bloated with spending, including farmer subsidies. He vetoed the measure, but Congress overrode him.

In Little Rock, Ark., Bush also led a private fundraiser for the Arkansas Republican Party. Tickets were $150; a photo-op package with Bush cost $5,000.

The state's Republicans are trying to rebound from a string of losses at the state level.

Bush, still a fundraising presence despite low national popularity, carried Mississippi and Arkansas in both of his presidential races.