Ask a political reporter, and they'll tell you the biggest story of the past week was Romney's selection of Paul "End Medicare" Ryan as his running mate. (I'll have more to say on him, soon). But that's not the only story. If you look more closely at what's been happening over the last week, you'll see hints of what we'll all be talking about in October: homes.
Remember how the banks shattered the housing market and got a helping hand from the American taxpayer? Well, those taxpayers are still in trouble, five years later. 1 in 3 mortgages is underwater -- meaning 40 million Americans owe the bank more than it is worth in today's new, post-bubble market. And it's not just homeowners who are affected! When people are putting the extra cash they save up toward their big loan balance instead of a night out or a new TV, it's a drag on our economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke agrees that the housing crisis is blocking our economic recovery.
If numbers alone don't break your heart, maybe stories will. Jaime Gonzalez, a retired police officer and grandfather, is one of those underwater homeowners and voters. He is losing his shirt trying to keep up with interest payments on his modest Florida home, but is unable to refinance or sell while his home is underwater.
What's to be done? Number one: the president should remove the one person who is the main obstacle to positive reform. Last week, key allies from labor and the environmental movement (the same folks who got Obama elected in 2008) joined forces with Rebuild the Dream to call on the president to replace Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) Acting Director Ed DeMarco. I'm proud to stand alongside these bold, progressive leaders from the Sierra Club and United Steelworkers, as well as almost 120,000 Rebuilders, telling President Obama to get rid of DeMarco.
DeMarco has single-handedly held up tens or even hundreds of thousands of jobs with his refusal to provide support to struggling homeowners by resetting targeted home loans to today's fair market rates -- a proposal the administration supports, and that his own FHFA thinks would save taxpayers a billion dollars. DeMarco also killed PACE, a program which would have created new jobs by making it easier for homeowners to finance clean energy installations in their homes.
Let's review: One man is standing in the way of creating jobs, helping the environment, providing real relief to homeowners -- and saving taxpayers a billion dollars. Unlikely allies are coming together to demand his ouster. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: President Obama should fire Ed DeMarco.
Romney is missing the boat, too. "Housing" is only mentioned twice in Romney's 160-page economic plan, and you won't find any proposal to stop the foreclosures on his website. He's said we should let foreclosure "hit the bottom." Maybe he hasn't felt there are votes in it for him.
He's wrong. Housing and foreclosures have been largely absent from the political debate, but they're about to break through in a big way. Battleground states like Nevada, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, and North Carolina have been among the hardest hit by the housing crisis. Of the nearly 24 million underwater voters who owe their bank more than their homes are worth, most are located in swing states. Polling by Gallup shows that neither candidate has a strong advantage on housing as an issue. Rebuild the Dream and other allies like New Bottom Line will be raising a stir about the problems in the weeks and months to come.
The lesson is clear. Homeowners like Jaime vote. Any politician who wants to live in the White House for the next four years needs to start talking about how voters can keep the houses they're living in right now.
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