TEXT OF INTERVIEW
JEREMY HOBSON: President Obama's State of the Union Address tonight will be strong on economic themes -- jobs, competitiveness, and debt. But later this morning, we'll get a look at the Case Shiller index, a housing market gauge that's likely to remind us of the continued weakness in housing.
And that's what concerns Jeff Merkley, a Democratic Senator for Oregon. He wants the President to talk tonight about boosting aid to struggling homeowners because of what he says is the failure of mortgage modification programs like the one known as HAMP.
Senator Merkley joins us now. Good morning.
JEFF MERKLEY: Good morning. Great to be with you.
HOBSON: Well, what would you like President Obama to say, particularly when it comes to foreclosure efforts?
MERKLEY: I'd like him to say that 300,000 foreclosure filings a month affecting almost 7 million families over the last two years is absolutely unacceptable. That our major national program for this isn't doing the job the way it should and so we're going to make a renewed national effort to assist families.
HOBSON: Well, aren't you worried though that the fundamentals are not strong? That even if you were to have this improvement with HAMP that you still have people that are really hanging on by a thread in terms of their ability to pay their mortgages and they'll eventually get foreclosed on anyway.
MERKLEY: When homes are being sold, and they're being sold at fire sale prices, in many cases the family that's in the home could actually repurchase the home in what I've called a short refinance program, and it would stability the family and stabilize the community and this would be a win-win all the way around, so that's another point.
HOBSON: I noticed just the other day that President Obama got rid of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, it's now called the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Are you worried that this is a president who's moving on, he's not really thinking about foreclosures anymore?
MERKLEY: Well, certainly I don't see how any president couldn't be thinking about foreclosures when there's been really no improvement, and 2011 looks to be very much like 2010. That's why I'm urging him to address this in the State of the Union, because let's realize that housing got us into this recession, and as long as housing is a mess, we're going to be in a recession for a very long time.
HOBSON: Senator, before I let you go, everybody in Congress is talking about how great it would be to cut spending, but no one seems to be able to come up with something they'd actually like to cut, so here is your chance -- is there anything in particular you would put on the chopping block?
MERKLEY: I think we have to look very seriously at our war in Afghanistan. I think the purposes for it have changed, we're spending a million dollars per soldier, and we need to think about spending more of those dollars back here in the United States of America.
HOBSON: Senator Jeff Merkley, Democratic of Oregon. Thanks so much for your time this morning.
MERKLEY: You're so welcome. It's great to be with you.