,WASHINGTON -- A foreclosure aid plan that was facing a sluggish trip through Congress has a powerful new engine behind it: the Bush administration's urgent request to rescue mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Lawmakers have little choice but to give the government power to send a lifeboat to the two companies to prevent an election-year economy from drowning in mortgage defaults. The quicker they do it, the sooner 400,000 strapped homeowners could get new, cheaper loans instead of losing their homes.
"The silver lining on this cloud is that it dissipates any question about how this bill is going to get passed," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the Financial Services Committee chairman, said of a broader housing package.
The House approved its version in May and the Senate followed suit on Friday, but a veto threat from President Bush and lawmakers' disputes over key details were threatening to sap its momentum.
Now it's clear the package -- which also includes modernizing the Federal Housing Administration and creating a new regulator and tighter controls for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- has to move quickly. Frank said the House would act by Friday to resolve lingering differences and add authority for the government to prop up the mortgage giants if needed, in hopes that the Senate would agree and clear the measure for Bush next week.
"I'm confident we're going to get this done," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., the Banking Committee chairman. "Unfortunately, these events over the last few days have probably increased the importance of this in the minds of some."
The administration, which has criticized key elements of the broad housing package, now has a powerful incentive to work out differences with Democratic leaders, who relish the prospect of claiming credit for a homeowner rescue plan just months before voters go to the polls.
And holdout Republicans, including Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, will find it more difficult to bash a plan that includes measures their own president calls crucial.
Shortly after Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson announced his plan to offer help to Fannie and Freddie, the two issued a statement saying they "stand ready" to work with him and congressional Democrats "to take appropriate steps to ensure the soundness of our mortgage markets."
"I think people understand the urgency of needing to get this (housing) bill done. And it's fortunate that we have this vehicle to be able to tack this on," said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.