Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: On Housing Plan
I just had the privilege of visiting with Felicitas Rosel and Francisco Cano at their home here in Las Vegas.
Today, John McCain is having a different kind of meeting. He's holding a fundraiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona. No cameras. No reporters. And we all know why. Senator McCain doesn't want to be seen, hat-in-hand, with the President whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years.
But the question for the American people is: do we want to continue George Bush's policies?
Because I don't think the American people want to continue the disastrous economic policies that have helped create catastrophes like the housing crisis that we're here to discuss today.
I don't think we want to continue a misguided foreign policy and an endless war in Iraq that has cost us thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars while making us less safe and less secure.
That's the choice in this election. On issue after issue, John McCain is offering more of the same policies that have failed for the last eight years. That's the agenda that he and the President are raising money to support later today. But I'm here in Nevada because we know it's time to turn the page.
Here, in Nevada, we see how so many people are fighting for their American Dream. Because in so many ways, Felicitas and Francisco have lived the American Dream. Their story is not one of great wealth or privilege. Instead, it embodies the steady pursuit of simple dreams that has built this country from the bottom up.
Felicitas came to Las Vegas from Arizona. Francisco came from Mexico. And together, in this city of dreams, they built a life founded on hard work and family; patience and perseverance. For two decades, they raised four daughters on a modest but dependable wage - thanks in part to their ability to organize with other workers in the Culinary Union. Today, she works as a maid -and he works as a porter - in the Bellagio, down on the strip.
Like so many working people, their lives have been shaped by sacrifice for their children's future - the promise that each generation has the ability to reach a little further. And theirs have been lives lived rent check to rent check, with the promise of a home sought through the little savings that they could put aside week after week, month after month, year after year. Finally, three years ago, they were able to reach that destination in their pursuit of the American Dream. After so much hard work, Felicitas and Francisco were able to move into a home of their own.
Yet a predatory loan has turned this source of stability into an anchor of insecurity. Because a lender went for the easy buck, they are left struggling with ballooning interest rates and monthly mortgage payments. Because Washington has failed working people in this country, they are facing foreclosure, and the American Dream they sought for decades risks slipping away.
Sadly - shamefully - their story is one that is found across the United States. Over two million families are facing foreclosure. Here in Nevada, the foreclosure rate is over three and a half times the national average. Here in Las Vegas, one out of every 44 households is facing foreclosure.
As so many Americans walk away from their homes, millions more have seen their home values plunge, which only puts our economy into a deeper hole.
The foreclosure crisis has played out in painfully steady but predictable motion. While lenders were taking advantage of folks like Felicitas and Francisco, they were also spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Washington to stay on the sidelines. For President Bush, the answer was to do nothing until the pain out on Main Street trickled up to Wall Street. Then, a few months ago, he rolled out a plan that was too little, too late. Instead of offering meaningful relief, he warned against doing too much. His main proposal for an economy that is leaving working people behind is to give more tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, even though they don't need them and didn't ask for them.
Now I know that John McCain doesn't like to talk about the economy. Earlier in the campaign, he admitted that, "the issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." Apparently, that hasn't changed, since his plan amounts to little more than borrowing bad ideas from George Bush.
For months, John McCain struggled to come up with a real plan to address the housing crisis, even as millions of Americans faced the nightmare of not being able to pay next month's bills. It took him three tries to come up with answers for struggling homeowners, and he still came up short. And Senator McCain is so out of touch with the struggles of working people that he gave a speech laying out his economic agenda last week, and he couldn't even be bothered to talk about a foreclosure crisis that has put so many families on the brink of catastrophe, and put our economy on the brink of a recession.
We've had enough of the can't-do, won't do, won't even try approach from George Bush and John McCain. We can't afford another President who can't be bothered to stand up for working people. It's time for change. It's time that Washington went to work for working people.
To stabilize our housing market and to bring this crisis to an end, I'm a strong supporter of Chris Dodd and Barney Frank's proposal to create a new FHA Housing Security Program. This will provide meaningful incentives for lenders to buy or refinance existing mortgages, and to convert them into stable 30-year fixed mortgages. This is not a windfall for borrowers - as they have to share any capital gain. It's not a bailout for lenders or investors who gambled recklessly - as they will take losses. It asks both sides to sacrifice. It offers a responsible and fair way to help Americans who are facing foreclosure to keep their homes at rates they can afford.
The President has threatened to veto this approach. Well it's time to stand up to George Bush, and to tell him to stop standing in the way of meaningful relief for working people. Congress must pass this bill. The President should sign it. And the FHA must get to work implementing it this fall. We cannot wait any longer - it's time for Washington to finally start to act.
For homeowners who were victims of fraud, I've also proposed an immediate $10 billion Foreclosure Prevention Fund. If the government can bail out investment banks on Wall Street, then we can extend a hand to folks who are struggling on Main Street. This fund will help homeowners sell a home that is beyond their means, or modify their loan to avoid foreclosure or bankruptcy. And it's long past time to amend bankruptcy laws that were written to protect banks and lenders instead of working people. Families should not be forced to stick to the terms of a home loan that was predatory or unfair. It's time to close a loophole that protects special interests while punishing working people.
And as President, I'll get tough on enforcement, raise the penalties on lenders who break the rules, and implement a new Home Score system that will allow consumers to find out more about mortgage offers and whether they'll be able to make payments. We need a housing market that is open and honest. We need to make sure that homebuyers have access to accurate and complete information about their mortgage options.
Finally, we need a tax code that's fair. John McCain is running for a third-term of tax cuts that only shift the burden onto working people. That might make sense to the Washington lobbyists who run John McCain's campaign, but it won't do anything to help families who are struggling. That's why I'm going to give a tax cut to working people. We'll give homeowners a tax credit that covers 10 percent of a family's mortgage interest payment. We'll eliminate income taxes for seniors making under $50,000 a year. And we'll extend a "Making Work Pay" tax credit of up to $500 for American workers, and $1,000 for working families. That's the kind of tax cut that makes sense for working people.
For far too long, our policies have been measured by how much sense they made on Wall Street or to the Washington lobbyists on K Street. This election must be our time to stand up and say that those aren't the American values that we believe in. We believe in an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. We believe in an America that welcomes hard-working immigrants like Francisco. We believe in an America where you can leave your children with a little more opportunity than you had, where you aren't turned out of your home because a mortgage lender went for the easy buck.
I do not accept an America where Washington's only message to working people is: "you're on your own." We're here to once again reaffirm that fundamental American belief - that we're all in this together as Americans. Because the dreams of hard-working people like Felicitas and Francisco matter to us. Their struggle is our struggle. Their dreams are our dreams - that's why we call it "the American Dream." And that's what I'll work for, and fight for, every day as President of the United States.