Obama presses Congress to pass aid to homeowners

WASHINGTON Sat Feb 4, 2012 5:38pm EST

President Barack Obama discusses about the economy at Fire Station Number Five in Arlington, Virginia February 3, 2012.     REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Barack Obama discusses about the economy at Fire Station Number Five in Arlington, Virginia February 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday pressed lawmakers to pass his proposal to provide up to $10 billion in aid to struggling homeowners, saying a failure to address the housing crisis would put the rest of the economy at risk.

"The housing crisis has been the single biggest drag on our recovery from the recession. It has kept millions of families in debt and unable to spend, and it has left hundreds of thousands of construction workers out of a job," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

Obama this week unveiled the details of a $5 billion to $10 billion program that would help homeowners take advantage of record low interest rates to refinance their mortgages. The assistance would be funded by a tax on large U.S. banks.

The housing initiative was one of several ideas Obama unveiled his annual State of the Union address to Congress last week.

Obama, who clashed repeatedly with House of Representatives Republicans over budget and tax issues last year, faces an uphill battle gaining traction for his domestic agenda in an election year.

Republicans gave a cool reception to the housing plan, saying it would mean too much government involvement in a key sector of the economy.

In his address, Obama acknowledged the challenges of pushing the legislation through a divided U.S. Congress. "As anyone who has followed the news in the last six months can tell you, getting Congress to do anything these days is not an easy job," he said.

Obama's handling of the economy, which has seen a sluggish recovery since the 2007-2009 recession, is likely to be the top issue in the November 6 presidential election.

In a report that could be helpful to his re-election prospects, the government said on Friday that the U.S. economy created a robust 243,000 jobs in January - the fastest pace in nine months - while the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent from 8.5 percent in December..

(Reporting By Caren Bohan; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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