President Obama meets with Val and Paul Keller at their home in Reno. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)
RENO -- Although the announcement on same-sex marriage became the focus the week after President Obama officially kicked off his reelection campaign, his trip to Nevada was a reminder of the pocketbook issues that are more likely to swing voter attitudes.
And so Obama visited with a middle-class family in one of the battlegrounds that will determine his fate to highlight what his administration sees as a success in its attempts to subdue a stubborn mortgage crisis.
In Nevada, three-fifths of homeowners are under water, that is, they owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home. The state also had the highest unemployment rate in March, at 12%.
Obama used his stop to urge Congress to act on legislation that would make it easier for lenders to refinance mortgages, steps that have the potential to save homeowners thousands of dollars each year on interest payments and potentially boost the economy as a whole.
It's the second item on a congressional "to-do" list Obama put forward this week, his latest election-year attempt to use an unpopular GOP-led House of Representatives as a punching bag.
“There's absolutely no reason why [Congress] can't make this happen right now,” he said before the open garage door of the home of Val and Paul Keller, after sitting down with couple at their kitchen table.
“If they started now, in a couple weeks, in a month, they could make every homeowner in America who's underwater right now eligible to be able to refinance their homes if they're making their payments, if they're responsible, if they're doing the right thing. And think about all those families saving $3,000 on average a month. That's a huge boost to our economy.”
Obama said the Kellers are saving $240 a month through the administration’s Home Affordable Refinance Program. Val Keller learned of the program last October during a previous trip by the president to the Silver State. She and her husband had a $168,000 loan for their home of 14 years, which is now worth $100,000.
Now, some of Keller’s neighbors are seeking the benefits as well. There has been a 240% increase in Nevada homeowners refinancing their mortgages, the administration said, citing an independent estimate.
Obama even invited members of Congress to come talk to the Kellers, if they needed further motivation to act.
“They should talk to people whose lives are better because of the action that we took,” he said.
In a conference call before the president’s event, Mitt Romney campaign surrogates called Obama’s housing policies a failure.
Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Reno, noted that the federal government is the largest land holder and could create jobs by speeding up the bureaucratic reviews of some projects on federal lands in Nevada.
“I appreciate the fact the president is coming to town and sitting in the living room with the Kellers, but it’s not going to solve our problems,” Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki added.
The Reno stop was the final event of a three-state, two-day West Coast swing. At campaign stops Thursday in Seattle and Los Angeles, Obama only made passing reference to his public support for marriage equality, comments that largely mirrored his previous statements with regard to gay rights.