ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
The U.S. Senate got in a little weekend work today. The result: final Congressional approval of a bill that could reshape the country's housing landscape. President Bush says he'll sign the bill when it hits his desk next week. Here are the plan's main goals: prop up the sagging real estate market, bolster mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and give some relief to homeowners facing foreclosure.
In a few minutes we'll get a look at how this bill could affect you - whether you already own a home or are thinking of buying one. First, NPR's Brian Naylor has the hard news from Capitol Hill.
BRIAN NAYLOR: After months of stumbles and false starts, Congress has put its stamp on a package of measures lawmakers hope will give a boost to the housing sector, where high foreclosure rates and declining prices have had a ripple effect throughout the economy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid painted an optimistic picture of the bill's potential impact.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Today at long last a ray of hope, a chance to turn the page on the housing crisis and begin a new chapter that gives more families a chance at the American dream of responsible home ownership.
NAYLOR: The bill addresses the flood of home foreclosures brought about by overly aggressive lenders and homeowners who got in over their heads. It would give several hundred thousand qualified borrowers a chance to get lower cost government-backed mortgages, if their lenders go along. It authorizes the government to back up to $300 billion worth of such loans. It also provides nearly $4 billion for communities to buy foreclosed properties and resell them, along with tax credits to encourage first-time homebuyers.
Opponents of the measure said it represented an unprecedented government intrusion into the housing market. Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina single-handedly forced the Saturday session.
Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): We kept them here till Saturday so American people could find out a little bit more about what's in it. But no matter what's wrong with it, most of the members of this Senate are going to come in and vote for it and check the box and go home and say they did something about housing. I'm afraid they may compromise the future of America as they do it.
NAYLOR: Conservatives were especially unhappy with the rescue plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the Bush administration said was crucial to restore investor confidence in the institutions. Its bill will give the two mortgage backers an unspecified line of credit and allows the government to buy equity in them should Fannie and Freddie need more capital. It's unclear what the cost of all that will be to taxpayers, but Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said Congress didn't get a very good deal.
Senator KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (Republican, Texas; Chairman, Senate Republican Policy Committee): I am troubled by the inclusion of an unlimited U.S. Treasury credit line for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including the authority for the U.S. government to purchase stock in these private companies without the necessary intervention in their governance.
NAYLOR: But backers of the housing bill, led by Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd said Congress had to do something.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I can't promise we've designed a silver bullet here. All I can tell you is that inaction was unacceptable. Doing nothing was intolerable, and what we've done here is fundamentally altered the way we do business when it comes to housing.
NAYLOR: A spokesman said the president will sign the bill when he receives it, despite some misgivings over its provisions because of the need for action now.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.