Senate tees up vote on mortgage aid for Nov.

The Senate plans in November to consider a mortgage refinancing bill that Democrats argue would help millions of homeowners and accelerate the economic recovery.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) said their bill, which would streamline refinancing for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers, will be one of the first orders of business when the upper chamber returns in November.

"I expect it to be one of the first votes when we come back," Menendez told The Hill.

They got some help with their pitch for the bill from Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, who reassured Democrats that the bill remains a top priority for the Obama administration, according to Boxer.

The measure, which is part of President Obama's congressional to-do list, would eliminate appraisal costs and remove barriers to competition in the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). It was recently reworked to address issues raised by the housing industry, the administration and other lawmakers.

Menendez and Boxer have been canvassing their chamber for support, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to secure enough votes for passage.

"I think we have strong support in our caucus, and I think there are some members on the Republican side who could be supportive," Menendez said.

Boxer said she has sent the bill to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who she has worked with on other legislation, but hasn’t heard back yet.

"But I'm hopeful," she said.

Democrats and Republicans have sparred over an agreement that would narrow amendments down to those that pertain only to the refinancing bill.

Committee leaders — Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson (S.D.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) — have spent months trying to reach an agreement on amendments, but were unable to forge a deal.

Shelby said he prefers "regular order" and "I have told them that."

The impasse in the negotiations prompted Reid to send the bill straight to the floor.

"I wish we could have gone to regular order except they want to use refi for the future of the GSEs," Menendez said, referring to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Johnson had hoped to move the bill forward in committee as part of the panel's practice to limit amendments to those germane to the underlying bill but "unfortunately Republicans were unwilling to continue that practice," a Senate aide told the Hill.

Republicans have suggested adding legislation that would wind down government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as a way to attract private lenders back into the mortgage finance market.

In response, Democrats have argued that their measure, which has broad support in the housing industry, is a targeted bill that could help homeowners quickly.

Boxer reiterated that the bill would help millions of homeowners who have made on-time payments but remain stuck in higher-interest loans and have been unable to refinance as rates have dropped.

Shelby said he supports some of the bill, but isn’t committed to it.

"Some of it I like, but I wouldn't say I support the contents because the contents are always subject to change," he said.

While the bill sits in legislative limbo, new action last week by the Federal Reserve provides some hope that if a deal is brokered, low interest rates would still be available for homeowners who want to refinance.

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage matched its all-time record low of 3.49 percent this week, while the 15-year rate hit a new low at 2.77 percent, percent, Freddie Mac announced Thursday.