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May 28, 2017

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Barack Obama promotes positive signs in housing market

WASHINGTON -- Eager to take note of signs of recovery, U.S. President Barack Obama is drawing attention to improvements in the housing industry while keeping up pressure on Republicans to back policies the White House says would help struggling homeowners refinance their debts.

"One of the heaviest drags on our recovery is getting lighter," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. "Now we have to build on the progress we've made and keep moving forward."

Obama cited an increased pace in construction of single-family houses and apartments in September. The Commerce Department said this week that last month's construction pace was the fastest in more than four years. Home sales are also up compared with last year, though sales dipped in September from August's two-year high.

With the economy still the dominant issue of the presidential campaign, Obama has been counting on voters believing that conditions are improving. But even indicators that are favorable to Obama still don't signal a strong recovery.

Obama conceded that too many mortgage holders are still under water, owing more than their homes are worth, and blamed congressional Republicans for not passing legislation he proposed in February that would lower lending rates for millions of borrowers. Republicans have objected, citing among other things the estimated US$5 billion to US$10 billion cost of the proposal.

Obama urged listeners to contact their members of Congress to push for the plan's passage.

"Let's be honest — Republicans in Congress won't act on this plan before the election," Obama said. "But maybe they'll come to their senses afterward if you give them a push."

In the Republican address, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona said Obama had inherited a fragile economy, "but he's done little to improve it."

Flake, who is running for the Senate from Arizona, accused the Obama administration of regulatory overreach, citing examples in his own state to bar mining on certain lands, impose expensive requirements on power plants and threatening to require hotels and resorts to install lifts in pools and spas. He called on Senate Democrats to pass a budget. "As bad as our fiscal challenges are, it's not too late," he said. "The bell has rung and it is time for us to get to work."

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