Intent on increasing homeownership to a record 67.5% by the next presidential election, the Clinton administration is jockeying to let the government's FHA program insure bigger home loans.

The defunct Federal Housing Administration, conceived during the Depression as a way to build a national mortgage market, was for many years the lender of choice for minorities and first-time homebuyers with low and moderate incomes. Its mortgage insurance program, now run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, encourages such lending by guaranteeing lenders that the government will repay 100% of the loan if a borrower defaults.

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