RENO - President Barack Obama, appearing in a swing state still reeling from the foreclosure crisis, called on House Republicans this afternoon to enact a mortgage-relief plan that has failed for months in Congress to gain traction.
"You're going to have to pressure Congress," the Democratic president said outside the Reno home of a couple who refinanced their mortgage through a program Obama is seeking to expand. "The pool of folks who can refinance right now, when their homes are underwater, is still too small."
A measure to expand a program for government-backed mortgages to those backed by private institutions is part of an election year "to-do list" Obama is pushing on Congress.
"I need all of you and everybody who's watching to push Congress on their "to-do list," Obama 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."
PHOTO CREDIT: President Barack Obama meets with Val and Paul Keller in their Reno home Friday. Associated Press//Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Obama's visit comes four years after he won Nevada convincingly in his election to the White House, including in Republican-leaning Washoe County. The state is one of several swing states where Obama and Mitt Romney are expected to compete ahead of the November election.
Obama's remarks followed a day of fundraising on the West Coast, including Thursday night at actor George Clooney's Los Angeles house. DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg, an organizer of the event, was overheard saying the fundraiser raised "a record nearly $15 million," including $40,000-a-plate seats and smaller donations made online by people hoping to win a ticket to the event.
First unveiled in February, the refinancing plan Obama advocated today would broaden a current program for people whose loans are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The White House said the measure could help about 3.5 million borrowers, its cost - $5 billion or more - to be financed by a fee on large banks.
The plan's prospects appear dim: Congressional Republicans have balked at the measure and at Obama's larger "to-do list," characterizing his agenda as a continuation of failed policies.
U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, told reporters ahead of Obama's visit that Obama's appeal for Congressional action ignores the Democratic majorities he enjoyed during his first two years in office. In the same conference call, organized by Romney's campaign, Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said Obama's stopover is "not going to solve our problems."
Three years after Obama took office, Krolicki said, the state's high unemployment and bankruptcy rates continue to "show how miserable things can be."
In his midday stopover in Reno, Obama met with Val and Paul Keller at their kitchen table before emerging to speak from a podium in the driveway, spectators across the street.
The Kellers, who refinanced their mortgage under the narrower program enacted by Obama last year, told the president the measure has saved them about $250 a month. The administration said refinancing applications have increased nationwide by 50 percent since the program was enacted, 237 percent in Nevada.
The recession looms especially large in Nevada, with its unemployment rate hovering around 12 percent.
"After the worst recession in our lifetimes - a crisis that followed the collapse of the housing market - it's going to take a long time for the economy to fully recover, more time than any of us would like," Obama said. "But there are plenty of steps that we can take to speed up the recovery right now."
The visit was reminiscent of one Obama made in October, when he met with a family in Las Vegas to highlight his housing policies before raising money in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Before going inside the Keller home, Obama shook hands with people in a crowd across the street, and he hugged Charlene Batrack, whose front yard was taken over by a media tent and risers.
"Look what they've done to it," he told her.