ROBERT SMITH, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith, sitting in for Liane Hansen. Congress will be sending a far-reaching housing bill to President Bush for signature tomorrow. The Senate gave final approval to the measure yesterday. It aims to help homeowners on the brink of foreclosure and rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together back nearly half of the nation's mortgages. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Its backers call the Housing and Economic Recovery Act the most comprehensive housing legislation in over 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 Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland pointed out yesterday, a growing number of homeowners faced foreclosure.
Senator BEN CARDIN (Democrat, Maryland): Everyday that we wait, 8,500 more foreclosures are here in America. 8,500 people are in danger in losing their houses every single day.
NAYLOR: 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, although some experts say the number who get them is likely to be far less. The bill also includes some four billion dollars for communities to buy foreclosed properties, and there are tax credits to encourage first-time homebuyers.
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 that 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 Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina single-handedly blocked the bill last week, forcing yesterday's session.
Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): I know this is a lost cause, and 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.
NAYLOR: 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.
Senator KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (Republican, Texas): We need checks on executive compensation and perks at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with this kind of infusion of taxpayer backing.
NAYLOR: Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, one of the bill's authors, said the measure was not a silver bullet, but that inaction was unacceptable.
Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I want to emphasize here, having passed this bill today doesn't mean that miraculously, tomorrow, everything gets better. What we've done with this legislation is create a clear path, a roadway, if you will, towards helping us get back on our feet and stabilize the situation. But there's nothing in this bill that solves the problem tomorrow.
NAYLOR: Tomorrow, the bill will be sent to the White House. A spokesman says the administration has several objections to provisions but chided Democrats for delaying it, said the President will sign it nonetheless. However, given Republican reservations of the measure, a public signing ceremony is not expected. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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