Government at its Best

A little over two months ago I wrote a long and ponderous post on the administration’s scheme to help homeowners in trouble and cure the housing crisis.  I wasn’t very nice about it.  I cruelly suggested that it might not help the 1 in 9 homeowners that the Treasury suggested might be helped.  I feel bad about  that.  I even implied that the strong moral leadership provided by the Treasury’s guidelines would not be enough, that actual legislation would be required.Obama Geithner

You must understand, this was in early March, back when things were really grim.  Unemployment was rising and house prices seemed to be falling every month.  I let my despair overcome my natural American optimism about all the good that government can do if we all chant “Yes, we can!”

Now that May has brought warmer weather and a buoyant stock market, let’s revisit the administration’s housing effort with all the optimism and cheerfulness that it deserves.  So two months into it, how is it going?  Great.  Well, pretty good. Not bad. To be honest, fair. A little less than expected, but it’s still early days.  Okay, really crappy, but we’re working on it.

A “senior administration official” quoted by the New York Times tells us that “about 55,000 homeowners have been extended loan modification offers” thus far.  And I am sure that when he says “about 55,000” he means “at least 55,000” and that practically all those homeowners will joyously accept the offer, which is no doubt a great help to them.  Assuming that the government can keep up this pace, this wonderful program will help 825,000 homeowners before it expires at the end of 2012.  That’s “about” the 3 to 4 million the program was meant to help, isn’t it?

Okay, so that’s a little short of the pace originally expected, but the notoriously anti-Obama NYT didn’t need to pile on by pointing out that there were 342,000 foreclosure filings in April alone.  Nor did it need to mention that some of those 55,000 could only get into the program with the help of a lawyer.  And there was no reason to suggest, as they did, that the legislation now in Congress to “protect mortgage servicers from potential lawsuits” was really necessary.

That sort of coverage is totally unfair because it takes a while for these high-profile emergency programs to get going.  Take, for example, the Hope for Homeowners Act, signed into law last summer.  It was a $300 Billion plan to help 400,000 homeowners.  By October 1 the government had it up and running and it has been building steam ever since.  Sure, that rabidly right-wing outfit NPR did report that six months later it had only helped a single homeowner, but more were in the pipeline.  51 had been “finalized to some degree by lenders” and a whopping 868 applications for the program had been received and were in process.  Also, I bet that one homeowner who got help was really really deserving.  (Can you imagine the thrill at being the only guy helped by a $300 Billion program? Now that’s something to tell the grandkids about.)

And these homeowner bailout plans are just one of the many effective programs that our leaders in Washington have enacted to get us out of the Great Recession.   Who can forget the $787 Billion stimulus package, expertly engineered to jump-start the economy with a sudden and massive injection of cash?  Only three months since passage, the government has already paid out $46 Billion, or nearly 6% of the money.  And it will start moving even faster soon. “The Obama administration has committed to spending 70 percent of the money, or $550.9 billion, within the first two years.”

The ever-eloquent Vice President summed it up in one of his brilliant sports analogies.

“In baseball terms, I think there’s going to be real pace on the ball here,” Mr. Biden said in the interview. “I think that what you’re going to see happen here is the velocity of this will increase not just arithmetically, but geometrically here. At least, we’ve got to make that happen.”

Yes, we can!


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