Bills to end Obama housing relief OK'd

House Republicans continued their push to dismantle the administration's housing relief efforts, advancing two more bills that would eliminate housing relief programs -- including the administration's cornerstone effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).

Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee pushed through the two bills Wednesday -- both passed by party line votes. Each would shutter an administration program aimed at homeowners and communities feeling the effects of the housing crisis. House Republicans, looking to rein in government spending, argued the programs are ineffective and costly.

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"When you pull a dollar out of the economy and use it on an inefficient program, that's a dollar that cannot be used in the private sector to create a job," said Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.).

The legislative debate surrounding this package of four bills has shaped up to be an intensely partisan battle, as the markup stretched ten hours into the night. Democrats accused Republicans of rushing to kill the programs, while offering no alternative support for struggling homeowners.

"I think we need to do more to study the program and ascertain whether or not it is really helping people, " said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas).

"If you don't like the program, either fix it or propose something else," added Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.).

And the White House has threatened to veto the first two bills, passed by the panel last week and slated for House floor consideration Thursday and Friday. The administration has defended the programs as providing key support to struggling homeowners, and a major cog in the economic recovery engine.

One bill approved by the committee Wednesday would eliminate HAMP, a key administration effort designed as part of the bailout package to help 3 to 4 million homeowners make permanent modifications to costly mortgages. However, the program thus far has failed to live up to its billing, as the latest numbers from the Treasury Department indicate that just over 600,000 modifications have been initiated under the program.

Republicans leaned heavily on criticisms of the program offered by Neil Barofsky, the former special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The bailout watchdog told the committee on March 2 that HAMP "continues to fall woefully short of meeting original expectations."

"This program has been a complete and utter failure, and there's no getting around that," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).

Democrats acknowledged the program had its failings, but were quick to point out that Barofsky never called for the program to be abolished. That bill was approved 32 to 23 by the committee.

The second bill would shutter the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which provides funds to neighborhoods struggling with large numbers of foreclosures or abandoned homes in the wake of the housing crisis. That bill would also rescind the $1 billion in funding that has not yet been spent.

Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) blasted that program for lacking sufficient oversight, saying the government had little means to track the funds once they had been granted to local governments and other grounds.

"There's a huge lack of accountability on how these funds are spent," he said. "This is definitely a government giveaway of tax dollars."

Ranking member Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) defended the program, citing letters of support from several state and local housing groups.

"It is a very important program for the communities that have been hurt," he said.

The measure was approved 31 to 24.

The partisan standoff even spilled over into parliamentary matters, as Democrats and Republicans quibbled over speaking time allotments and interrupted each other repeatedly during the markup.