Bush Backs Down on Homes Bill

WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush dropped his opposition Wednesday to legislation aiming to calm the chaotic U.S. housing market despite his objections to a $3.9 billion provision. The House of Representatives was expected to vote on the bill Wednesday, and it could become law as early as this week.

Under the bill, the government would help struggling homeowners get new, cheaper loans and would be allowed to offer mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac a cash infusion.

The Bush administration and lawmakers in both parties teamed to negotiate the measure, which pairs Democrats' top priorities -- federal help for homeowners facing foreclosure and $3.9 billion for neighborhoods hit hardest by the housing crisis -- with Republicans' goal of reining in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while reassuring financial markets of their stability.

Bush had objected to the $3.9 billion provision in the measure, saying that it was aimed at helping bankers and lenders, not homeowners who are in trouble.

It hands the Treasury Department the power to extend the government-sponsored mortgage companies an unlimited line of credit and buy an unspecified amount of their stock, if necessary, to prop up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two companies chartered by Congress. The two companies back or own $5 trillion in U.S. mortgages -- nearly half the nation's total.