White House To Get Senate-Approved Housing Bill

The White House on Monday will receive a far-reaching housing bill from Congress for President Bush's signature.

The Senate approved the measure 72-to-13 on Saturday. The bill would help homeowners on the brink of foreclosure and rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together back nearly half of the nation's mortgages.

Its backers call the Housing and Economic Recovery act the most comprehensive housing legislation in more than a generation. At times, it seemed it took nearly that long for the measure to get through Congress. It bounced back and forth from the House to the Senate several times, all the while as Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland pointed out on Saturday, a growing number of homeowners faced foreclosure.

"Everyday that we wait, 8,500 more foreclosures are here in America; 8,500 people are in danger of losing their houses every single day," he said.

The bill aims to stem that tide by allowing qualified borrowers who took out loans they can no longer afford to refinance with lower-cost, government-backed mortgages, if their lenders go along.

Congress hopes as many as 400,000 homeowners will qualify for the loans, though some experts say the number that gets them is likely to be far less. The bill also includes some $4 billion for communities to buy foreclosed properties, and there are tax credits to encourage first-time home buyers.

Also included in the measure is a new regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it gives the two mortgage backers an unspecified line of credit and allows the government to buy stock in them if they need additional capital.

The Bush administration pushed for the rescue, saying it was necessary to restore investors' faith in the institutions, but conservative Republicans aren't so sure.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMInt of South Carolina single-handedly blocked the bill last week, forcing Saturday's session.

"I know this is a lost cause that I'm not going to stop this bill but I'm disappointed, the American people are disappointed, and what we've done by keeping the Democrats and the republicans here today is maybe give Americans a little more time to see what this Congress is doing to their future," he said Saturday.

No one knows what the line of credit will end up costing taxpayers, if anything. Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison pointed to salaries in the tens of millions of dollars for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives. She said Congress should have implemented greater controls.

"We need checks on executive compensation on perks at Freddie Mae and Fannie Mae with this kind of infusion of taxpayer backing," she said.

Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, one of the bill's authors, said the measure was not a silver bullet, but that inaction was unacceptable.

"I want to emphasize here having passed this bill today doesn't mean miraculously everything tomorrow gets better," he said. "What we've done with this legislation is create a clear path — a roadway if you will — toward helping us get back on our feet and stabilize the situation, but there's nothing in this bill that solves the problem tomorrow."

On Monday, the bill will be sent to the White House. A spokesman says the administration has several objections to provisions of the bill, but that the president will sign it. Given Republican reservations about the measure, however, a public signing ceremony is not expected.

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