Bush raises Republican cash, touts housing efforts

Published 4:25 pm Wednesday, July 2, 2008

President Bush raised cash for Republican candidates in two Southern states on Tuesday, sandwiching in a quick stop to call attention to the nation’s housing woes.

In Mississippi, Bush led a closed fundraiser for Sen. Roger Wicker, the former congressman who was appointed to Trent Lott’s vacated seat. Wicker is competing in a Nov. 4 election against Democrat Ronnie Musgrove to fill the remaining four years of Lott’s term.

Later, Bush shifts to Arkansas, where he was to participate in a round-table conversation at a nonprofit counseling agency that helps people who are struggling to pay their mortgages.

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The president caps his day at another closed fundraiser, for Arkansas Republicans.

Bush’s focus on housing comes as a mortgage-rescue plan has stalled in the Senate over a tax dispute. The measure would allow the government to back $300 billion in cheaper loans for homeowners facing foreclosure. Senate leaders hope soon to get back to the bill, which includes elements Bush supports, including an overhaul of the Federal Housing Administration.

The administration opposes parts of the rescue-plan, too. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush urged Congress to get him a housing bill he can sign nearly a year ago.

“It’s hard to believe that we’ve gone 10 months now waiting for Congress to act,” he told reporters traveling with Bush aboard Air Force One.

The combination of weak housing sales, falling home values, tighter lending and the weak economy has forced many strapped homeowners into foreclosure. Many can’t find buyers, or they owe more than their home is worth and can’t get refinanced into an affordable loan.

Foreclosure filings in May were up nearly 50 percent compared with a year earlier.

Nationwide, 261,255 homes received at least one foreclosure-related filing in May — up 48 percent from a year ago, foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. reported this month.

By dropping in a bit of official business on Tuesday, the White House defrayed the cost of the trip for candidates and state parties, and made the trip less overtly political.

Ultimately, taxpayers end up paying most of the bill for any political travel by the president. The formula used to determine those costs predates Bush’s tenure as president.

Wicker’s campaign manager, Austin Barbour, said no fundraising totals were available for the Mississippi event. With roughly 500 people attending the $1,000-a-ticket luncheon, the total raised was likely at least $500,000 for Wicker and the state’s Republican Party.

Wicker was among the Republicans who bucked Bush in this election year by voting for the farm bill. The president said the massive $290 billion bill was bloated with spending, including farmer subsidies. He vetoed the measure, but Congress overrode him.