President Barack Obama urged Congress from afar Thursday during a town hall-style meeting at a high school in Rio Rancho, N.M., to get moving on health care reform and tighter regulations for credit card companies, and the White House also unveiled new programs designed to make it easier for homeowners who owe far more than their houses are now worth to sell those homes at a loss and have their remaining debt forgiven.
Housing: The programs are the latest additions to Making Home Affordable, an evolving $75 billion plan that tries to break the national housing crisis into separate pieces, attacking the problem on several fronts. The first two legs of the program sought to help borrowers refinance into today's low mortgage rates, or if they're behind on payments, to seek loan modifications to avoid foreclosure. Thursday's announcements address situations in which borrowers can't qualify for either of those programs and are at risk of losing their homes. The administration will now provide additional financial incentives to lenders who agree to allow homeowners to conduct short sales or deed-in-lieu transactions instead of going into foreclosure.
Credit cards: Obama urged Congress on to quickly send him legislation ending abusive credit card practices. But his populist appeal also included a stern warning to shoppers whose eyes are bigger than their budgets. "There's no doubt that people need to accept responsibility," he said. "This is not free money — it's debt, and you should not take on more than you can handle." Obama wants Congress to make it harder for credit card companies to hike interest rates precipitously, charge unfair late fees, or impose other impossible conditions on consumers. "Those days are over," he said. The House has approved legislation containing some of the protections Obama seeks. A slightly different version is pending in the Senate.
Health care reform: House Democrats are crafting a plan that would require all Americans to carry health insurance and would help families making less than $88,000 pay the premiums. The plan would build on the current system, but with major changes: Individuals and employers would face new obligations to help pay for coverage. Insurers would operate under stricter consumer protections. And the government would take added responsibilities for setting insurance rules and providing financial help to low- and middle-income families. Momentum for a health care overhaul built this week after Obama obtained a pledge from medical providers to help find $2 trillion in savings over 10 years to help pay for his plan.