Leahy, Sanders weigh in on Senate housing bill

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(Host) The U.S. Senate is putting together a package to stop the widening foreclosure crisis. Vermont’s Senators say homeowners in their state can use some help.

Matt Laslo reports from Washington.

(Laslo)Vermont’s housing market has been holding steady, while most other states are struggling with waves of foreclosures.

But Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy says the housing crisis is creeping in.

(Leahy) "We have more homes foreclosed in the largest county in my state every single week."

(Laslo) The Senate package being debated would create $10 billion in low interest loans for struggling homeowners to refinance their mortgages. It would also subsidize local governments to redevelop foreclosed properties and fund loan counseling.

Leahy says Congress is finally heading in the right direction.

(Leahy) "We can almost immediately give huge bailout to banks and mortgage companies and all. This actually intends to help people whose houses are being taken away from them."

(Laslo) Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, says the package doesn’t go far enough to protect average Americans. He introduced an amendment to cap interest rates on credit cards and mortgages. The ceiling would be the rate that the Internal Revenue Service charges late tax filers. So if his proposal were in effect today, credit card and mortgage lenders couldn’t charge more than fourteen percent.

(Sanders) "What we are seen now is middle class working people being ripped off big time by credit card companies and mortgage companies. And what this amendment says is enough is enough. We are going to put a cap on interest rates."

(Laslo) But Sanders admits his amendment is unlikely to pass.

(Sanders) "As of today, for the United States Senate, it’s a pretty radical idea. And this amendment obviously will receive fierce opposition from mortgage companies, banks and credit card companies. They are pretty powerful in D.C."

(Laslo) Aside from homeowners, businesses would get relief from the package as well. It allows homebuilders to write off more taxes.

For VPR news, I’m Matt Laslo on Capitol Hill.

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