Does Obama’s Refinancing Initiative Have a Chance?

The President's refinancing initiative could help homeowners, but will it ever get far enough to make an impact?

One of the big takeaways from President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address was a new government-led refinancing plan that would allow homeowners with current, non-GSE mortgages to refinance at today’s historically-low interest rates.

Funding the refinancings with a new tax on the nation’s largest banks, the President claimed in his speech that the program could save homeowners $3,000 a year.

“I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates,” Obama said in his address. “No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”

White House officials and Democratic lawmakers championed the plan, but a new piece from the Wall Street Journal finds that analysts are not so optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“Most analysts, however, are skeptical,” writes Alan Zibel, the article’s author. “They don’t give the refinancing plan much of a chance of winding its way through a deeply divided Congress, especially during an election year.”

For instance, one analyst sampled in the piece was Edward Mills, who works with FBR Capital Markets. Mills does not give the bill even a fighting chance.

“We believe that this program would be dead on arrival in Congress, as congressional Republicans are opposed to additional intervention in the mortgage market and are philosophically opposed to a bank tax,” Mills said in the article.

Jaret Seiberg, a senior policy analyst with Guggenheim Securities, highlighted the steep political challenges such a bill would encounter in Congress.

“The question is whether Congress will enact this into law. To us, that is a very high hurdle in an election year,” Seiberg said. “Republicans will be loathe to give the president a political win and we expect they will portray this as a policy that rewards the irresponsible at the expense of the responsible.”

Seiberg, though, was not one to dismiss the merits of the plan, itself, and he said its soundness could help its political chances.

“Yet one should not dismiss this idea outright,” he said. “We believe it may be far less expensive for the government than the market may believe. That could make it difficult for Republicans from states still suffering from housing woes to object.”

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