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Obama visits Reno, urges congress to expand mortgage refinancing program


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: President Barack Obama made a brief stopover here today, visiting with a couple who refinanced their home through a White House initiative helping underwater homeowners who have government-backed loans.

After meeting with Paul and Valerie Keller, Obama urged Congress to expand the Home Affordable Refinancing Program (HARP) to other mortgages as well.

President Obama greets the crowd in Reno. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

The Kellers were able to save $240 a month by refinancing using the program, he said.

“Now, Val says that they’ve been talking to some of their neighbors – maybe some of you are here today – and you’re saying, well, that sounds like a pretty good idea. And a lot of folks across the country recognize this is a smart thing to do not only for homeowners but for our economy, because if Paul and Val have an extra $240, $250 a month, then they might spend it on the local business.

“And that means more money in the economy, and businesses do better, and slowly home prices start rising again,” Obama said. “So it makes sense for all of us.

“There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t make this happen right now,” Obama said to a small crowd gathered on Ridgecrest Drive in north Reno. “If they started now, in a couple of weeks, in a month, they could make every homeowner in America who is underwater right now eligible to be able to refinance their homes – if they’re making their payments, if they’re responsible, if they’re doing the right thing. And think about all those families saving $3,000 on average a year – that’s a huge boost to our economy.”

Obama said that since the announcement, refinancing applications have gone up by 50 percent nationwide and 230 percent in Nevada.

“That’s the good news,” he said. “People are taking advantage of this.”

Obama’s Nevada visit comes as he campaigns for a second term in the White House. He won Nevada in 2008, but with the highest unemployment rate and one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the nation, the state is considered to be a toss up.

His visit prompted a response from the Mitt Romney campaign by Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.

In a conference call, Amodei and Krolicki said they do not want the president’s focus on the success of the Kellers to overshadow what they called his overall failing policies.

“How many people fit that profile?” Amodei asked about the Kellers. “When you look at the success of those policies, we are still in critical condition in relation to housing in Nevada.”

“I appreciate the fact that the president is coming to town and sitting in the living room with the Kellers, but it is not going to solve our problems,” Krolicki said. “We need a president that is encouraging job growth. The easiest cure for a foreclosure is a job.”

Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange released a statement praising Obama’s proposal: “The president’s mortgage refinancing plan would make a real difference to families nationwide and here in Nevada. This key piece of the president’s ‘To-Do List’ could help families save up to $3,000 a year, reducing foreclosures, boosting the economy, and speeding the recovery of the housing market.

“In contrast, Mitt Romney told Nevada families facing foreclosure they need to ‘hit the bottom’ and called for rolling back laws to protect families against the mortgage abuses that helped create the financial crisis,” she said.

But at least one news report has questioned whether the Kellers are the responsible homeowners as described by Obama. CNBC reported that the Kellers did a “cash out” refinancing in 2007 that helped put them in their current predicament.

It was Obama’s first visit to Reno since April 2011, but he has also visited Southern Nevada twice this year and First Lady Michelle Obama was in Las Vegas at a fundraiser last week.

He arrived in Reno after attending a fundraiser in California.

President Obama with Paul and Valerie Keller in Reno. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Obama hinted at the difficulties facing many Nevadans as he began his remarks, noting that “it is going to take a long time for the economy to fully recover. More time than any of us would like. But there are plenty of steps we can take to speed up the recovery right now.”

In addition to the refinancing program, he identified four other “common-sense policies” on Congress’s “To-Do” list that can help now in the economic recovery: end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, give small business owners tax breaks for hiring more workers and paying higher wages, extend tax credits for clean energy companies and create a Veterans Jobs Corps so that veterans can get work as police and firefighters.

Americans for Prosperity – Nevada (AFP-NV) today questioned Obama’s call that Congress extend certain clean energy tax credits, arguing they have a bad track record of creating jobs or promoting green energy technology.

“Hard working Nevada taxpayers want to know why the president continues to ignore the facts and waste their money on expensive, unproven ‘green energy’ boondoggles like Solyndra,” said Adam Stryker, state director of AFP-NV. “It’s time for the president to stop bowing to blind ideology and support real job creation.”

In his concluding remarks, Obama said: “I need all of you, and everybody who is watching, to push Congress on their “To-Do” list,” he said. “Nag them until they actually get it done. We need to keep moving this country forward. Send them an email. Tweet them. Write them a letter if you’re old-fashioned like me. But communicate to them that this will make a difference. It’s one small step that will help us create the kind of economy that all Americans deserve.”

Audio clips:

President Obama says the refinancing program is good for the economy:

051112Obama1 :33 all of us.”

Obama says people are taking advantage of the program:

051112Obama2 :13 the good news.”

Obama says people need to tell Congress to get moving on the “To-Do” list;

051112Obama3 :35 all Americans deserve.”

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