With foreclosure signs prevalent and a Wall Street rescue reverberating, majority Democrats want the government to step in and back up to $400 billion in troubled loans. The goal is to help strapped borrowers and thaw a credit market plagued by uncertainty about the value of subprime mortgages made to people with spotty credit or low incomes.
As lawmakers return from their two-week spring recess, their leaders are moving fast to increase the political heat on the housing issue. Many Republicans, though, are resisting what they characterize as heavy-handed federal intervention that could leave taxpayers on the hook for a mortgage bailout.
Senate Democrats plan a test vote this week on a series of housing proposals. One would let bankruptcy judges reduce the amount owed and interest payments on loans held by distressed borrowers. President Bush and Republicans strongly oppose the idea.
The Senate took up the plan several weeks ago. But the proposal, which also would make grants available to communities with the highest foreclosure rates so they could buy foreclosed properties, fell well short of the 60 votes it would have needed to advance.
Democrats, however, are determined to put Republicans in the position of making tough votes, given the issue's potency for voters.
"Our hope is that when Republican members went back home, they said 'Let's do something,' " said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.
Bush administration officials have signaled that they, too, are reviewing a new approach to help homeowners. The White House is evaluating the Democratic proposals, but Bush advisers say the administration does not want to reward risky behavior by borrowers, speculators and lenders.