Rekindling "Urgency" of '08, Obama Targets Mortgage Crisis

Rekindling "Urgency" of '08, Obama Targets Mortgage Crisis

By Alexis Simendinger - October 25, 2011

Barack Obama traveled backward through time to Las Vegas on Monday, back to a refrain he used when his presidency was fueled with what his campaign had called "the fierce urgency of now." His struggles with the economy then and his administration's struggles now frame one essential political conundrum for an incumbent.

Is it the underlying economic malaise or perhaps the government's various repairs after more than two years that still leave Americans with chronic high unemployment, slow growth and historic foreclosure rates?

The president's rhetoric Monday was a reminder of his efforts 31 months ago. The White House made a fuss as Obama flew to Nevada that the president’s new executive-leadership slogan is “We can’t wait,” intended to point a finger at Republicans in Congress. “We can’t wait” might be a catchy sound bite, even one lampooned on Twitter, but new it was not.

Here was President Obama during a speech in Elkhart, Ind., just weeks after his swearing-in:

“Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don't act immediately, millions of more jobs will be lost,” he said then. “The national unemployment rates will approach double digits, not just here in Elkhart, all across the country. More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that at some point we may be unable to reverse. . . . We can’t wait and see, and hope for the best. We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.”

On Monday, with September’s refrain -- “Pass this bill!” -- on ice thanks to determined congressional opposition to the American Jobs Act, Obama argued that his clout as chief executive could straddle public policy gaps where legislation lags. Rhetorically, “We can’t wait” took Obama back to where he started.

“If any member of Congress thinks there are no unemployed workers or no down-on-their-luck neighborhoods in their district that would benefit from the proposals in the jobs bill, then they better think again,” the president warned Monday in Nevada, one of three Western states on his itinerary this week.

“These members of Congress who aren’t doing the right thing right now, they still have a chance to take meaningful action to put people back to work, and to help middle-class families and homeowners,” he told one donor audience in Las Vegas. “But we can’t wait for that action. . . . Where we don't have to wait for Congress; we're just going to go ahead and act on our own.”

The president’s announcement Monday focused on Nevada’s worst-in-the-nation status for foreclosures and the high percentage of homes in the state currently worth less than the mortgages owed, a condition known as negative equity. Experts have testified to Congress and to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that negative equity, even more than unemployment, increases the probability of mortgage defaults.

Working through an existing federal program, Obama said the government successfully negotiated with major lenders and other key stakeholders to clear the way for qualified homeowners to refinance to low interest rates when mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are underwater. The administration’s aim is to prevent perhaps a million more homeowners nationwide from slipping into foreclosure by reducing their monthly housing costs.

White House aides said the president would continue to announce jobs-related initiatives through the fall that require executive action rather than legislation. As the president traveled to California Tuesday on a campaign fundraising swing, the focus of his executive attention turned to another favorite White House theme: employment help for military veterans and their families.

As a strategy, the president’s attention to his constitutional muscle outside of Congress has actually been ongoing since Republicans won control of the House nearly a year ago. As a campaign theme, however, it is intended to signify action, leadership and independence -- even as Obama carefully argued Monday for additional legislation to help create more jobs and to address the foreclosure mess.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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