For four years the housing crisis has been dragging down the U.S. economy, impoverishing homeowners, preventing a robust recovery and stifling job creation. The Obama administration has taken a number of actions to relieve the situation: reducing principal for some homeowners through the Home Affordable Modification Program, urging mortgage companies to do the same through multistate foreclosure settlements and assisting distressed homeowners with refinancing. Still, these efforts have failed to forestall the cascade of problems gushing from the home-loan debacle. Economists, and now the Treasury Department, have begun to think the unthinkable: forgiving substantial repayment by homeowners whose properties are “under water,” that is, whose mortgages exceed their market value. Even Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner has come to hold this view.
But Edward J. DeMarco, the acting head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the office that supervises the country’s largest mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has rejected the idea of principal reduction. Mr. DeMarco, analysts say, has taken his action to uphold the principle of debt repayment. In a country that can bail out its banks and permit mega-bonuses for bankers, it is unjust to hold the line on homeowners. Mr. Geithner has written Mr. DeMarco, asking him to reconsider. The secretary argued that reducing payments on principal would relieve “a significant number of troubled homeowners, help repair the nation’s housing market and result in a net benefit to taxpayers.” The F.H.F.A. should heed Treasury’s request, and if it does not, the administration would be well-advised to find new leadership for the agency.
Marketing Health Insurance
Despite a U.S. Supreme Court challenge, foot-dragging by opponents and 33 votes in the House for repeal, President Obama’s health care reform law is crawling toward the finish line of full implementation. Health exchanges, a sort of insurance supermarket to help people compare policies, are supposed to be up and running for consumers in every state by 2014. But as the November 2013 deadline for putting them in place draws near, only 13 states have applied to set up an exchange. Additional states probably will apply, but the federal government expects half of all the 50 states to abdicate their role in creating an exchange. So much for the federal “takeover” of health care. In some cases the failure is a blatant act of political rebellion, even sabotage, against the federal law; in other states noncompliance reflects budget woes, reduced staffing and other local setbacks.
The federal government must redouble its efforts and add to its own budget the cost of setting up so many state exchanges. It must also aggressively counter the political fallout sure to follow. For state detractors, even those who have abdicated their duty, can complain about whatever the federal government does or does not do. It is always easier to criticize than to lead, especially if local voters support tactical defiance. Resistance by states also helps those members of Congress who are already prone to starve the federal government of revenue and appropriations for health insurance.
Voters should look closely at the health care reform law. Basically it is a long-range plan to see that nearly all Americans are insured against the huge financial risk of illness and injury, whether chronic or sudden. The insurance exchanges, then, are vital to our nation’s health.
Status of Christians
In this age of over-sharing, many Americans are still keeping their religious identities to themselves—at least online. According to a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute, 50 percent of Americans refrain from describing their religious beliefs in their Facebook profiles. Of the half that choose to identify their beliefs, 20 percent describe themselves as Christian, 9 percent call themselves Catholic, and 4 percent identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing. In addition, only 5 percent of Americans say they follow a religious leader on Twitter or Facebook. White evangelical Protestants are the most likely to have engaged with a religious group or leader online. Nearly 20 percent have posted a status update about being in church (for Catholics, the number is 2 percent), and 25 percent have listened to a sermon online (compared with 6 percent of Catholics).
So should churches just give up on reaching out through digital media? Not yet. Younger Americans are far more likely to engage with religious groups and leaders online. Four in 10 Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 say they use Facebook multiple times each day. The same percentage of younger Americans say that their church provides a Facebook page or a Web site where people can interact, and 26 percent say their church encourages them to use social media. Still, it is possible to become too plugged in. Sixteen percent of young Americans admit to sending or reading e-mails during a worship service. In the end, it is real-life actions, not online identities, that define a person’s commitment to his or her faith. One hopes others will know we are Christians by our love—even if they cannot tell from our status updates.