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Since the crisis broke out three years ago, Mr. Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner have attempted to influence events in Europe behind the scenes, pushing for measures to prop up growth on the Continent to prevent a worsening recession. But their advice has been mostly ignored by the de facto leader of Europe during the crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Like many U.S. Republicans, German leaders view the administration’s prescription of loose fiscal policies tied to even looser monetary policies as bad government management.

Austerity snuffs out growth

Germany and its allies in Northern Europe instead have prescribed stiff budget austerity for their ailing Southern European neighbors. When combined with the grudgingly accommodative monetary policy of the European Central Bank, the budget cuts have thrown Europe into a double-dip recession, as U.S. leaders feared, leaving them to powerlessly wring their hands.

Mr. Romney’s silence on Europe suggests that he has little to offer that would differ from the Obama administration other than to start imposing budget austerity in the U.S. like that seen in Europe. But even if he wanted the U.S. to take a more active role in addressing the crisis in Europe, his own party in Congress most likely would block him. Conservative Republicans in Congress view the limited, noninterventionist approach of the Obama administration, which has been influencing events indirectly through its veto power at the International Monetary Fund, as going too far.

Conscious of opposition in Congress, the U.S. Treasury was conspicuously absent when the IMF this year announced additional contributions of $400 billion from nations outside Europe to help address the crisis. Even so, some prominent conservatives in Congress want the U.S. to pull what little assistance it is providing to the IMF through previously negotiated credit lines to prevent the money from being used to bail out profligate borrowers such as Greece.

While the parties bicker over what to do about Europe, David Greenlaw, a Morgan Stanley economist who recently received a prize for accurately forecasting the deep recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis, said he expects “spillover” from the European crisis to be an impediment to growth next year, no matter who is in the Oval Office.

The economy in 2013 will be “quite sluggish” because of such outside problems, he said, although he expects the housing recovery to pick up and be a “bright spot” in an otherwise drab recovery.

Housing faces big hurdles

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett also said Wednesday that he expects the housing and economic recovery to continue next year no matter who wins the White House. But others are not so sure that the housing market will be able to overcome the lingering obstacles from a still-retrenching mortgage market.

“You’ve got the Fed delivering the best housing recovery medicine possible — record-low interest rates,” said David H. Stevens, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “Yet, credit policy is so tight those rates are being neutralized.”

He blames the “undue underwriting caution” of banks on a combination of tighter credit standards by the federal housing agencies, confusing federal mortgage regulations, “aggressive” moves by Fannie and Freddie to hold banks accountable for losses on risky or undocumented loans, and “false claims” and costly litigation against banks from states, citizens groups and other quarters.

The Fed’s unprecedented program to purchase mortgage bonds and drive interest rates lower is “being blunted by restrictive credit conditions when it should be fueling a booming recovery,” Mr. Stevens said.

Housing’s problems will not be solved easily, said R.C. Whalen, a housing-finance specialist at Institutional Risk Analysts.

“The supply of qualified individuals with the capacity to buy and actually occupy a home has fallen dramatically” since the crisis, because banks today are refusing to extend credit to about 30 percent of borrowers who qualified for loans during the housing boom, he said. “How do you fund a housing recovery” when the pool of buyers is shrinking? he asked.

“The headwinds affecting the economy and the housing market are simply too strong” to allow vigorous growth, no matter who wins the election, he said.

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