JONATHAN COHN OCTOBER 21, 2011
[with contributions from Matthew O'Brien and Darius Tahir]
President Obama travels to Nevada on Monday and, at first blush, the timing could not be better. Mitt Romney, the man most likely to be the Republican presidential nominee, was there just a few days ago. During a televised interview with the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review Journal, he said he didn’t think the government should do anything to stop foreclosures:
Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up. The Obama administration has slow walked the foreclosure process ... that has long existed and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang.
The problems of the housing market are not my specialty. But I know that Nevada leads the country in foreclosures – and that unscrupulous lenders are a big part of that story. Here’s David Dayen, who has followed this issue closely at FireDogLake:
in Nevada, where Romney was sitting when he made this statement, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has sued Bank of America over illegal foreclosure processes, along with generalized fraud and deceptive practices on loan modifications and fee pyramiding. Nevada is one of the key areas of the country where the foreclosure crisis is at its most acute. And virtually every resident there has been touched by abuse at the hands of their lenders.
The Obama campaign pounced on Romney’s statement: “Mitt Romney’s message to Nevada homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage bills is simple: you’re on your own, so step aside,” said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. But, as Dayen and quite a few other writers noticed, the Obama team has a problem here: Housing policy has been among its most conspicuous failures, as even administration officials will now concede.
The most well-known symbol of this failure is the Home Affordable Mortgage Program. HAMP reached only a small fraction of the homeowners it was supposed to reach – and ended up spending only a tiny fraction of the $75 billion it was supposed to spend. (Or $50 billion, depending on how you want to count). ProPublica has run a devastating series on the program and it's well worth reading if, like me, you haven't followed the issue that closely and want to get up to speed.
Is it too late to do more? Maybe not. Jared Bernstein sketched out one idea in TNR today. And reports, like this one from Reuters, suggest the Administration is preparing to announce new assistance for struggling homeowners as early as Monday. I'm guessing we'll hear something about it in the Las Vegas speech.
Again, I'm really not the person to tell you how well, if at all, these initiatives would work. But this much I do know: The administration’s track record on housing is not good. If it doesn’t improve, the foreclosure problem will remain -- putting a drag not only on the economy but also Obama's chances for reelection.
Number of the day: 38 million. That’s the number of wage earners who made less than $10,000 last year – or roughly the population of California, as Derek Thompson reminds us in the Atlantic.
In a related development… Average household wealth in the U.S. does not crack the top ten internationally. Suzy Khimm has the story.
Two square meals a day. Weekend lunches for prisoners are the latest casualty of state budget cuts. Via the New York Times.
Good at business, bad at politics. It’s a pattern, according to Jamelle Bouie of the American Prospect.
Men are not funnier than women. In Slate, Amanda Marcotte breaks down the latest scientific study everybody is misinterpreting. By the way, a visitor to my household could have confirmed this independently: My wife is way funnier than I am, although perhaps that’s faint praise.
Reader comment of the day: In response to my item about the GOP's filibuster of the Obama jobs bill, "wnalpert" has a question:
Why doesn't Harry Reid make them actually filibuster? If the Republican senators were forced to drone on and make a spectacle of themselves, it might just help get a real jobs bill passed.
Good question! Karen Tumulty was on this crusade for a while. Still seems like a good idea to me.
Video dedication of the day: It’s been a busy news week, here and abroad, making me think of this favorite from Carbon Leaf.