Obama pushes refinance plan

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is rallying support for his plan to expand government assistance to homeowners, pressuring Congress to help lower lending rates for millions of strapped homeowners.

Obama, in his radio and Internet address Saturday, urged the public to "get on the phone, send an email, tweet" and visit with their lawmakers about his housing proposal to lower lending rates for millions of homeowners.

"They're the ones who have to pass this plan. And as anyone who has followed the news in the last six months can tell you, getting Congress to do anything these days is not an easy job," Obama said.

Obama outlined the housing plan Wednesday, asking Congress to approve legislation that would make it easier for more borrowers to refinance their loans. The proposal would create a program through the Federal Housing Administration that would have the government assume the risk for the new mortgages.

The president wants to pay for the plan, which is expected to cost $5 billion to $10 billion, by placing a fee on the nation's largest banks, a move that faces long odds in Congress.

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The plan would allow an eligible homeowner to refinance a loan through the FHA, which would guarantee the new loan, assuming the risk if the borrower should default. The fee on large banks would finance the FHA's insurance fund.

The administration estimates that 3.5 million borrowers with privately held mortgages would have enough of an incentive to refinance their mortgages.

"What this plan will do is help millions of responsible homeowners who make their payments every month, but who, until now, couldn't refinance because their home values kept dropping or they got wrapped up in too much red tape," Obama said, urging listeners to tell Congress to "pass this plan."

In the Republican response, Rep. Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania said the GOP's energy and infrastructure agenda would create more than a million private-sector jobs and urged Obama to help them pass it.

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