WASHINGTON — Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer on Thursday challenged the Federal Housing Finance Agency to implement a series of initiatives that would make it easier to refinance Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages.
The proposals are contained in a bill — introduced by the two Senate Democrats this week — that is a centerpiece of President Obama's push to take advantage of low interest rates by allowing more homeowners to refinance.
But Menendez and Boxer told reporters in a conference call Thursday that the bill's provisions could be enacted unilaterally by FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco, and they urged him to do so.
"I again would call on Mr. Demarco to take our bill and just implement it," Boxer said.
"The president cannot order this done. We can't order this done. He can."
Menendez said that his office has been in contact with the FHFA about the bill's provisions. "But we don't have a finality of view from them," he said.
An FHFA spokeswoman said Thursday that the agency is currently reviewing the bill.
Senate Republicans have suggested that they will withhold their support for the Menendez-Boxer bill if Democrats bypass the Senate Banking Committee and bring the bill directly to a floor vote.
Menendez said Thursday that he believes the bill has a good chance of achieving bipartisan consensus, but he was non-committal on the question of whether the Banking Committee will hold a vote on the bill.
Even if the bill passes the Senate, it could face a tough road in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have expressed sympathy with the bondholders who could be the losers in a new wave of refinancing by homeowners.
Boxer said that the bill does not yet have a sponsor in the House, but she argued that the bill should not spark an ideological fight.
"This is pro-business, this is pro-consumer, this is pro-homeowner," she said.
The measure would address certain existing barriers to refinancing.
For example, it would allow new servicers to use the same streamlined underwriting process that servicers of existing Fannie and Freddie mortgages are already using under an existing administration refinancing program.
President Obama is expected to tout the bill, among other refinancing measures, in a Friday speech in Nevada.