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GOP Wants Housing Crisis Addressed In Stimulus

NPR: housing. NPR's Audie Cornish reports from the Capitol.

AUDIE CORNISH: Republicans want to make a lot of changes to the economic stimulus plan, and their arguments tend to sound something like this...

MITCH MCCONNELL: The House bill is an embarrassment. The Senate bill on the floor is not markedly better. Our goal will be to pare it down and to target it right at the problem.

CORNISH: That's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the problem he wants to target is the housing marking. Republicans say they want to redirect billions of dollars to deal specifically with homeowners. Republican Conference Committee Chair John Ensign.

JOHN ENSIGN: Unfortunately, the housing market is barely addressed in this so-called stimulus bill. Most Americans would tell you it's the first thing that we need to heal. If we made mortgages more manageable, people can stay in their homes and our economy can begin to rebuild.

CORNISH: Now the bill does have a $7,500 tax rebate for first-time homebuyers, but Republicans say that's not enough. So Senator Ensign is introducing an amendment that would encourage banks to let people get new home mortgages, or refinance their existing ones at a federally guaranteed rate of four to 4.5 percent. Ensign says it could save millions of homeowners more than $400 a month.

ENSIGN: That makes a huge difference to most families, and it would target the problem of oversupply in the housing market, something that we cannot ignore. This is like a permanent tax cut, which economists believe is the best stimulus for our economy, not a one-year tax rebate.

CORNISH: Democrats say they're open to taking on housing in this bill. Here's Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada on Ensign's measure.

HARRY REID: We're willing to take a look at their amendment, see what the cost is and see what the effectiveness of it is.

CORNISH: So far, the cost is estimated to be up to $300 billion. Republican pledges to cap it there aren't making it any more palatable. Democratic Party Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.

DICK DURBIN: It appears to be something short of solving the problem, and I don't know if this is the appropriate place to do it. But we're certainly open to the notion. I hope that they'll have some concern about mortgage foreclosures, and I don't think his proposal fixes it.

CORNISH: Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.