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Obama looks to bypass Congress with help for homeowners, students

With the jobs bill stalled, Obama is bypassing Congress and using executive powers to enact change. Strapped homeowners and indebted students are first in line under his relief plan.

By Staff writer / October 24, 2011

President Obama speaks at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Las Vegas, on Monday. Obama will unveil new measures to help struggling homeowners in Las Vegas on Monday in the first leg of a campaign-style swing through western states that may be crucial to his re-election in 2012.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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Washington

“Yes we can” is out. President Obama’s new slogan: “We can’t wait.”

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After the Senate blocked consideration last week of Mr. Obama’s jobs proposal, the administration has moved to Plan B: bypass Congress and enact change via executive-branch measures. On Monday, the federal government announced new rules for some “underwater” homeowners, to make them eligible for lower interest rates.

The president will discuss the new program in a speech in Las Vegas Monday at 5:30 p.m., Eastern time. Nevada has both the highest unemployment (13.4 percent) and foreclosure rates in the United States, and it’s a crucial swing state in next year’s presidential election.

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In the “We can’t wait” initiative, the administration is “taking and highlighting a series of executive actions to show that we’re doing everything we can do to get the economy moving to help middle-class families and create jobs,” said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, in a call with reporters.

At the same time, Mr. Pfeiffer said, the administration will continue to pressure congressional Republicans to pass the president’s $447 billion jobs bill, the American Jobs Act, either in its entirety or piece by piece.

In his Las Vegas policy speech, the president will also highlight part of the American Jobs Act called Project Rebuild, which aims to stabilize blighted neighborhoods. Federal money would be used to leverage private capital to hire construction workers, who would rehabilitate homes and businesses.

“If Congress would act, we could get Project Rebuild funded and helping homeowners right away,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One en route to Las Vegas.

On Wednesday, Obama will announce new rules for repayment of federal student loans in a speech in Denver, capital of another election battleground state, Colorado.

It’s not clear how many jobs will be created from these policy changes, but they at least demonstrate movement in areas that have been financially devastating to some Americans. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, causing housing prices to fall sharply, many Americans became trapped in homes they could no longer afford. Many are “underwater,” that is, they owe more than their house is worth.

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