Obama cites conservative values to pitch progressive plan

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama used conservatives’ themes to portray a new government program for cheaper mortgages as a foundation for “American values of fairness and responsibility” in a speech delivered on Wednesday morning.

His speech included at least 14 mentions of “responsibility” and two mentions of “accountability” while he announced a new government-imposed program that would require banks to offer mortgage-refinancing at lower interest rates. (RELATED: Obama promises cheap mortgages)

The mortgage program could help 3.5 million people, according to the administration.

Obama’s speech did not reference any government role in creating the housing bubble, instead focusing blame on the financial sector while also suggesting that some people borrowed more than they could pay.

“Millions of families who did the right and responsible thing — folks who shopped for a home, secured a mortgage, made their payments each month — they were hurt badly by the irresponsible actions of other people who weren’t playing by the same rules…  It was wrong [and] it triggered the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes,” Obama declared during the speech in Falls Church, Va.

The speech also included a dig at Gov. Mitt Romney. Obama’s campaign staff is trying to portray Romney as elitist, out-of-touch and heartless.

“It is wrong for anyone to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom,” Obama said. “I refuse to accept that, and so do the American people. … In places like Las Vegas, more than half of all homeowners are underwater — more than half,” he said.

Obama’s use of “hit bottom” refers to an October 2011 Romney statement that said Obama’s interference in the financial sector was slowing the economic recovery.

“Are there things that you can do to encourage housing? One is don’t try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up,” Romney told the Las Vegas Review Journal.

“The Obama administration has slow-walked the foreclosure processes that have long existed, and as a result, we still have a foreclosure overhang,” Romney added.

To sharpen the political contrast with Romney, Obama ended his Wednesday speech by promising to aggressively regulate the financial sector.

“I promise you that I will keep doing everything I can to make the future brighter for this community, this commonwealth and this entire country,” Obama said as he ended his speech, and just before the loudspeakers began playing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

In turn, GOP activists are trying to paint Obama as an out-of-touch elitist eager to cozy up with other elitists in academia and business.

Obama’s election-year offer of a government bailout to 10 million home owners was delivered a week after his State of the Union speech, in which he assigned responsibility for the bubble to the financial sector, again not mentioning a role played by politicians or government regulators.

“It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts and no copouts.  An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody,” Obama declared on Jan. 24.

By the end of 2012, Obama’s administration will have borrowed and spent $5 trillion more than taxpayers sent to the government from 2008 to 2012. The extra borrowing will push the federal debt to $16.4 trillion in late 2012, and will have to be paid by citizens for decades into the future.

The current debt of $15.3 trillion amounts to almost $50,000 per man, woman and child. (RELATED: Sessions: CBO economic outlook is unrealistic, too sunny)

In August, the nation’s credit was downgraded by Standard & Poors because of mounting government deficits.

Obama’s speech repeatedly highlighted his 2012 theme of responsibility and American values, while also promoting an increased role for government, rather than individuals and the free market.

“As much as our economic challenges were born of eroding home values and portfolio values, they were also born of an erosion of some old fashioned American values. Government must take responsibility for rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced.  Banks and lenders must be held accountable [by government] for ending the practices that helped cause this crisis in the first place.”

Obama’s language emphasized individual responsibility, but his proposals increase the role of government regulators while diminishing the role of individual choice.

“I want to be clear: This plan, like the other actions we’ve taken, will not help the neighbors down the street who bought a house they couldn’t afford, then walked away and left a foreclosed home behind. It is not designed for those who acted irresponsibly, but it can help those who acted responsibly,” he claimed.

However, Obama’s speech also promoted his proposed government-mandated mortgage bailouts, new federal investigations of the financial sector and new rules and documents intended to simplify real estate transactions

“We’ve set up a special task force I asked my attorney general to establish, to investigate the kind of activity banks took when they packaged and sold risky mortgages…  We are going to speed [government] assistance to homeowners… I’m also proposing a Homeowners Bill of Rights — one straightforward set of commonsense rules of the road that every family knows they can count on when they’re shopping for a mortgage… Government must take responsibility for rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced,” he said.

“So I urge Congress to act. Pass this plan. Help more families keep their homes. Help more neighborhoods remain vibrant and whole. Help keep more dreams defended and alive,” he said.

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