NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The nation awoke yesterday morning to find that our president was right on the job. President Obama proclaimed that he wasn't going to let a recalcitrant Congress kick him around anymore.
"Obama's Mortgage Financing Plan: This Time It's Different," asserted a blogger at The Atlantic. The Obama administration is going to help underwater homeowners refinance, having correctly identified the lagging housing market as an enormous continued drag on the economy.
Wouldn't that be great if it were so? A defiant president finally taking on the "do-nothing" Congress, just as Harry S. Truman did in 1948, and using the powers of his high office to help people, and not just to uplift them with speechifying. But as usual in such situations, when you dig down into the details of a new presidential initiative, the early enthusiasm wanes -- the way that early enthusiasm for the Obama presidency has waned pretty much from the beginning.
Sure, the newly modified Home Affordable Refinance Program has a number of excellent new features. Borrowers can get low-rate refinancing if the value of the home is less than what is owed on it, regardless of how much equity homeowners have in their homes. This is great news.The problem with this plan is that in order to refinance, you've got to prove that you don't need to refinance. You have to be current in your mortgage payments for the past six months, and cannot have missed more than one payment during the past year. You have to have good credit. I haven't looked at the Federal Register or tried to figure out who dreamed up these requirements, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his first initial is "F" and his last name begins with "K," as in "Kafka." The result, as one housing finance expert told CNNMoney yesterday, is that the plan "may still only help a limited number of borrowers." I would interject that given these strictures, the number of the most desperate borrowers -- the ones close to being thrown out of their homes -- eligible to participate will be even more limited than "limited." The word that comes to mind is bupkis.