- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

President Obama on Tuesday announced a new plan to provide mortgage relief for veterans and active members of the military with government-backed loans, his latest attempt to bolster the housing sector.

In his first full news conference of the year, the president laid out his housing-relief proposal for veterans and service members whose deployments and mandatory moves have made them particularly vulnerable to the pitfalls of the housing crisis.

Mr. Obama’s plan reduces fees for qualifying borrowers with Federal Housing Authority-insured loans who want to refinance at lower rates, saving the average homeowner more than $1,000 a year, according to a fact sheet on the plan the White House released Tuesday morning.

Building on the landmark housing settlement with major mortgage lenders by the federal government and 49 state attorneys general announced last month, the plan would compensate service members who have been foreclosed upon or denied a lower interest rate on their mortgages.

The housing announcement is the latest of Mr. Obama’s go-it-alone “We Can’t Wait” initiatives, which began last fall with the release of a series of executive office actions that do not require congressional approval. The president last month called on Congress to pass a much more expansive $5 billion to $10 billion housing proposal that would make it easier for certain borrowers to refinance their loans and would impose a tax on banks and lenders to pay for it.

Mr. Obama had not held a news conference since November, and Tuesday’s session came amid modest signs that the economy is on the mend. But the depressed housing industry persists as a drag on the economy, as do economic problems abroad. The president scheduled his first extensive in-person question-and-answer session with the media the same day as the 10-state Super Tuesday Republican presidential nominating contest.

After suffering a series of public relations blows during last fall’s debt negotiations with Republicans, Mr. Obama’s poll numbers have edged up close to the 50 percent mark in recent weeks, and last month he won an extension of the payroll-tax cut, a major points of his jobs plan for 2012.

But Republicans have criticized the pace of the recovery, and rising gasoline prices have threatened to slow it down, spurring more GOP dismissals of his energy policies.

The president also faced questions about Iran’s development of its nuclear program and his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he met on Monday in the Oval Office. Tensions have been riding high for weeks over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Israel’s threats to launch a military strike on Tehran in an attempt to set the program back.



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