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Obama pushes Congress to help underwater homeowners


RENO, Nev. – Thursday, it was George’s mansion; Friday it was Val and Paul’s house. 

The day after President Barack Obama joked around with movie star George Clooney at a high-dollar dinner, he sat down in Val and Paul Keller’s kitchen to talk about how they reduced their monthly mortgage payments by taking advantage of a program to help responsible homeowners refinance their mortgages.

The trip to Reno – the only official event on an otherwise fundraising-heavy West Coast swing – was meant to highlight the administration’s efforts to expand access to refinancing and to push the president’s five-point Congressional “to-do” list.

Speaking outside the Kellers’ home after meeting with them privately, the president first touted the measures he implemented last fall to help homeowners who are current on their government-sponsored loans but had fallen behind because their homes were underwater (their values dropped below what owners owed on them).

He noted the Kellers were beneficiaries of that program but added that it could only help people with government-sponsored loans, the most the president could do without getting the program passed through Congress.

“We want to include everybody; people whose mortgages aren't government-backed. And in order to do that we've got to have Congress move,” he told a crowd of the Kellers’ neighbors seated outside their home.

Three Democratic-sponsored bills on homeownership will be introduced next week, one of which would help those with non-federal loans to save more money through refinancing, exactly what Obama called for on Friday.

He added that Congress should also remove more regulatory barriers for responsible homeowners, including costs for manual appraisals, which aren’t always necessary to determine whether a homeowner is eligible for refinancing, as well as pass a bill that would give homeowners the option of refinancing into lower monthly payments or funneling those savings into rebuilding equity in their homes.

“There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t make this happen right now. 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.”

The visit to the Keller’s followed two fundraisers in Seattle in addition to the Clooney dinner.

Earlier Friday morning, the president played basketball with Clooney and actor Tobey Maguire. Asked on the rope line who won the game, the president responded, “"As you might expect, George and I won.” But he quickly added, “I think we are all winners ‘cause no one got hurt."

Obama did get hurt in a Nov. 26, 2010, post Thanksgiving basketball game with family and friends. He needed 12 stitches after Rey Decerega, a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute aide, elbowed him in the lip.

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