America faces a housing crisis that it has not seen the likes of since the great depression. Hundreds of thousands of families have lost their homes due to the mortgage crisis in the past year and more are at risk if we don’t act now. That is why the US Senate must support some version of the Foreclosure Prevention Act, which passed this past week in the US House. This legislation, which is on its way to the Senate next week has been threatened with veto by President Bush.
As usual, the President is wrong. The President has said that he would veto the legislation if it comes to his desk because he doesn’t believe that certain types of people should be rewarded for their bad decisions. What the President means is that poor people shouldn’t be protected from predatory lenders and that the government shouldn’t have any regulatory responsibilities when it comes to mortgage lenders.
The fact is that this housing crisis could have been avoided. It is the result of twenty-five years of federal deregulation across the board combined with a speculative investment industry gone haywire. A rational person would conclude that after seeing so many foreclosures, maybe there is something wrong with the system. But when it comes to the role of the free market and the responsibilities of the government to legislate for the common good, the Republicans just don’t get it. Their belief is that the free market is always the best solution to every problem. Just this week, House Representative Marcia Blackburn of Tennessee said that the foreclosure legislation would “provide a safety net for irresponsibility.”
Tennessee’s Republican constituency wants to live in the good old days when the poor people knew their place and didn’t try to do anything irresponsible like own a home or expect a living wage. Their response to this legislation clearly shows the misdirection of the Bush administration and his Republican supporters. In contrast to that is the message of the progressive left in this country, which has real solutions to the housing crisis, some of which are contained in the legislation currently making its way to the US Senate and some of which is not included. As Americans on the verge of a grave financial crisis, it is important to get a grip on why we are in this situation. It is in large part due to the deregulatory nature of federal policy, which has been encouraged by twenty-five years of conservative and neo-liberal administrations.
In a deregulated free market without proper government oversight, poor people are victimized by predatory lenders and cannot count on the government to provide regulatory oversight. This is at the root of the mortgage crisis and the federal government has an ethical responsibility to step in now and attempt to remedy the damage that it could have avoided by placing stricter limits on what lenders can and cannot do in order to get a poor person to sign on to a mortgage.
But in order to really address the root of the housing crisis, the federal government must take steps to address the root causes of poverty, unemployment, low wages and homeless in America. We must take steps now to raise the federal minimum wage to a living wage, which is about $10.50 an hour plus benefits. We must invest in job training and invest in our education system to ensure that all Americans have a chance to attend college. We must invest in affordable housing for all Americans. Finally, we need to invest in quality, affordable, single payer health care.
I believe that we can build a community where all Americans can live with hope. If we stop investing hundreds of billions of dollars on war and violence and invest in our domestic infrastructure, we can begin to rebuild this country. We must begin by paying Americans a wage that a family can reasonably expect to live on. We must ask those who have received the most benefit from our system to give the most by rolling back the Bush tax cuts. We must use the government as an agency of good and regulate the more ruthless elements of a free market. If we fail then we must ensure that the government is there, as a safety net, to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.