ATKINSON, Ill.--President Obama, winding up three day bus trip in Illinois, said it could take more than a year for the housing market to recover, urged Congress again to pass a payroll tax cut and argued that "putting people back to work" is not "inconsistent" with putting the "fiscal house" in order.
Obama made a somewhat nostalgic return to his adopted homestate, where the former Illinois senator started his remarks at Hyffel Hybrids, a corn seed manufacturer with a nod to his fellow Illinoisans: "It is good to be back -- back home!"
He made his comment in response to a question from LuAnn Lavine, the broker/owner of ReMax Hometown Advantage real estate agency in Geneseo, seven miles west of this Henry County town, who told the president the wrangling in Congress over extending the debt ceiling stalled business just as it was on an uptick.
"Since the debt ceiling fiasco in Washington, the phones have stopped. We have no consumer confidence after what has just happened. Interest rates are at a record low. I should be out working 14 hours a day, and I am not," Lavine told Obama, wanting to know about his plans.
A problem with the housing market is that banks are setting bar very high--too high Lavine said--so that it is very difficult for homebuyers to qualify for a mortgage.
"One of the things we've talked about is, can we encourage banks now to take a look at customers who are good credit risks but are being unfairly punished as a consequence of what happened overall," Obama said.
"There are some other ideas that we're looking at on the housing front, but I'll be honest with you. When you've got many trillions of dollars' worth of housing stock out there, the federal government is not going to be able to do this all by itself. It's going to require consumers and banks and the private sector, working alongside government, to make sure that we can actually get housing moving back again.
"And it will probably take this year and next year for us to see a slow appreciation again in the housing market.
What we can do is make sure we don't do any damage. And that's what happened in this last month."
After Atkinson, Obama--and his new $1.1 million bus--hits the hamlet of Alpha, Ill. before heading to Peoria, where he will fly Air Force One to Washington. Obama held town halls Monday and Tuesday in Minnesota and Iowa. Unlike those potential 2012 swing states, Obama is seen as having no re-election problem in Illinois.
Obama, as he has since the congressional melt down over raising the debt ceiling and cutting spending and perhaps adding revenues, made another plea--they have been coming regularly--for Congress to find common ground on job creation programs. A high unemployment rate is one the biggest threats to Obama winning a second term in 2012.
Jobs, Obama said, "traditionally, that hasn't been a Democratic or a Republican issue. That's been an American issue. We've taken pride in rebuilding America. The only thing that's holding us back right now is our politics. We should be passing trade deals right now because, look, the Koreans, they can sell Kias and Hyundais here in the United States. I think that's great. I want to be selling Fords and Chryslers and Chevys into Korea.
"And I want products all across the world stamped with three words: Made in America. That's something that we could be doing right now."