Obama has no magic wand to solve the housing crisis

In The Hill’s “California Dems intensify pressure on Obama to tackle foreclosures” article (Oct 12), several of my fellow Democrats publicly attacked President Obama for his handling of the housing crisis. There’s no question that the overall economy cannot recover robustly without a recovery in housing, but members of Congress should refrain from implying that the president could waive a magic wand to solve the problem.

The president doesn’t have the authority to break contracts between homeowners and mortgage servicers at his whim. He can’t simply order banks to lower rates or write down balances on existing loans. He is tasked with solving a vast and complex problem in the face of congressional obstruction, incompetence in the financial services industry, and the risk of severe unintended consequences if new policies backfire.

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Despite these obstacles, the president’s deliberate and focused approach has already allowed nearly 2 million homeowners to refinance or modify their loans. The recent announcement that the Treasury Department will expand the HARP program that refinances loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will accelerate that progress.

But the president can’t do it alone, and he can’t do it quickly. We need an honest bipartisan discussion between homeowners, Congress, the Obama administration and the financial services industry to pass targeted legislation to address the nationwide housing depression. With Republicans committed to holding back economic recovery to harm the president’s reelection prospects, however, I question whether the House of Representatives would pass any such bill, no matter how reasonable.

From Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Washington, D.C.

Missing a few facts

Does Dr. David Hill even try very hard anymore? His superficial analysis of President Obama’s approval ratings as tracked by Gallup concludes: Election over, incumbent defeated (“Stick a fork in Obama — he’s done,” Oct. 26). Now, I know it helps to be a cynic if you’re a political pro, but this goes beyond the pale. Cast an eye over Gallup’s Oct. 21 analysis and it leaps out that both Presidents Reagan and Clinton had average approval ratings just a couple of percentage points higher for the first 11 quarters of their first terms than Obama’s, and they both coasted to reelection. Somehow, Dr. Hill omitted this from his column ... perhaps because it undermines his premise? 

He then goes on to suggest terrible things will occur in Iraq, based on the flimsiest of premises, and seeks to play down Obama’s national security credentials — even as Obama gets relatively high marks in approval polls for national security. Again, Dr. Hill leaves out inconvenient facts when they undercut his argument.

Dr. Hill then gets around to the economy and correctly identifies it as the battleground on which the election will be decided. But he then mistakenly assumes that Mitt Romney or whomever the GOP candidate is won’t be vulnerable to negative attacks launched by a desperate Team Obama. What? A basic tenet of American politics as practiced for the last half-century or longer is that negative campaigning, done properly, can be effective in framing the debate — as Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, George H.W. Bush and John Kerry would all attest. Romney, in particular, would seem an easy target to caricature, and Obama HQ in Chicago is already trying out lines of attack on him. 

Summing up: If I were ever a candidate and got from Dr. Hill a polling analysis/strategy memo such as this, I’d be left wondering: Why did I hire this guy again?

From Mike Maynard, Gaithersburg, Md.

Science shows no reason to pick on potatoes

Potato overload in schools? Let’s look at facts rather than opinions.

According to data the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided last week to Congress, its proposed school serving limits would not result in fewer servings of potatoes and other starchy vegetables. Why? Because potatoes, corn and peas aren’t currently crowding out other vegetables from kids’ plates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2005-2008) data show that kids get less than 1 percent of their calories from white potatoes in any form from school cafeterias. This is consistent with USDA’s data from the latest School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (the 2004-2005 school year), which show that schools are offering students fewer than two servings of potatoes per week on average. 

So why mandate regulations that limit the flexibility of schools when the government’s own data tell us that schools are not, as David Kessler puts it (“Kids suffer from potato overload,” Oct. 18) serving “french fries one day, a baked potato the next, and tater tots the third”?

The Institute of Medicine report “School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children,” upon which USDA is basing its proposed rules, provides no scientific evidence that restrictions of starchy vegetables will improve children’s health. Nor is there science to support the opinion that children will eat other vegetables if potatoes are eliminated or limited in the School Breakfast Program or School Lunch Program. In fact, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (upon which the USDA’s proposal is also based) recommends eating more, not fewer, starchy vegetables such as potatoes since they are a rich source of potassium, fiber and magnesium.  

With 90 percent of U.S. children not getting enough vegetables in their diet, we can do better than mandating limits on healthy vegetables that kids actually eat.

From John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C.

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