Politicians Missing the Mark — Left and Right — on Housing

Both sides of the political aisle are short on specifics to bolster the housing market.

When it came to offering fixes for the housing market, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) wasn’t the only tongue-tied politician on stage at Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas. The presidential candidates let an opportunity slip away to explain how they would address the nation’s housing problems. Nor has the Obama administration put forth sound policy on housing, which would go a long way toward getting our economy back on terra firma.

Housing accounts for more than 15% of the national gross domestic product, a key driver of our national economy.

So politicians, please take note:Housing is one of the nation’s most crucial economic issues. Do your homework. Offer substantive solutions.

In response to the housing crisis, Rick Santorum said during the debate, “Yeah, I mean, it’s — it’s a situation right now where obviously the market is in — has been decimated. And so now you’re looking at, how do you repair it? The problem is — in the first place, is that several people up here, the, quote, ‘businesspeople,’ supported the TARP, supported the bailout … I mean, look at what’s going on here.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said foreclosures have been affecting mothers but avoided offering a solution to the problem. “I just want to say one thing to moms all across America tonight. This is a real issue,” Bachmann said. “It’s got to be solved.”

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the stalwart Libertarian, promoted a non-interventionist approach to the problem.

Herman Cain relied on the “less regulation” talking point.

Even front-runner Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, floundered on Tuesday. He derided federal tax credits like the mortgage interest deduction as useless intervention. “The idea of the federal government running around and saying, hey, we’re going to give you some money for trading in your old car, or we’re going to give you a few thousand bucks for buying a new house, or we’re going to keep banks from foreclosing if you can’t make your payments. These kind of actions on the part of government haven’t worked,” Romney said.

And during an earlier interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Romney argued that foreclosures should be allowed to “hit the bottom” so the market can correct itself naturally — rather than relying on government action.

The candidates’ weak responses on housing represent a much greater problem than failed debate fodder. They showcase a lack of attention being paid to housing policy and a fundamental disconnect between Washington and middle-class Americans who worry they’re becoming nothing more than a statistic.

The candidates’ trepidation to offer tangible policies is a sad reflection of the nation’s political process. Despite the obvious and growing need for government intervention, small-government candidates can’t support the notion this close to the Iowa caucus.

And with counter-effective proposals circulating on Capitol Hill to reduce or eliminate the long-standing mortgage interest deduction, mandate 20% down payments for home buyers, and toss Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which would make it difficult to get an affordable 30-year home loan, Washington is going in the wrong direction.

Seventy-five million American home owners represent a powerful and influential constituency. Should politicians choose to forgo party line voting and weigh in based on the issues, 2012 may be the most surprising election year yet. 

Do you think politicians will start taking stronger stands on housing issues?