(CBS News) Voters in Nevada know better than most that the economy continues to struggle: The Silver state has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the nation and the highest unemployment rate. So President Obama stopped in Reno, Nevada on Friday to assure homeowners that he's helping turn things around, and to call on Congress to help him do more.
"It's going to take a long time for the economy to fully recover, more time than any of us would like," Mr. Obama said. "But there are plenty of steps we can take to speed up the recovery right now."
Capping off a two-day trip out West, the president on Friday met with Paul and Val Keller -- two Reno homeowners who benefited from the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), the initiative his administration implemented to make it easier for responsible homeowners to refinance their mortgages. Mr. Obama touted new evidence that HARP is working: Since the program was announced, refinancing applications have gone up by 50 percent nationwide and 230 percent in Nevada alone.
Currently, however, the program is only open to homeowners with a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. As part of his "to do" list for Congress, Mr. Obama is asking legislators to expand the program, in part by opening it to all responsible homeowners, not just those with government-backed loans. He's also asking for legislation that would encourage homeowners to take their savings from refinancing and use it to build up equity, as well as legislation to increase competition between banks that are competing for borrowers' business.
"In order to do that we've got to have Congress move," the president said. "There's absolutely no reason why they can't make this happen right now. If they started now in a couple weeks, in a month they could make every homeowner in America who's underwater right now eligible to be able to refinance their homes if they're making their payments, if they're responsible, if they're doing the right thing."
Mr. Obama urged Congress to "talk to people whose lives are better because of the action that we took. All over the country, there are people just like Paul and Val, folks just like you, who are doing everything they can to do the right thing."
The president said that he rejected the Republican agenda for improving the housing market. "They want to cut more taxes, especially for the wealthiest Americans. They want to cut back on the rules that we put in place for banks and financial institutions."
Alluding to past comments from his GOP rival Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama added, "They've said that they want to let the housing market hit bottom and just hope for the best... We've tried their ideas for nearly a decade, and they didn't' work. And I refuse to sell this country short."
While the president is pointing to increased refinancing applications as a sign of HARP's success, the economy in Nevada -- where the unemployment rate stands at 12 percent -- is clearly still struggling. Mr. Obama won the swing state by 12 points in 2008, but this year's election will likely be more difficult for him.
Romney will hammer the president for Nevada's stalled economy, and he will also benefit from the state's Mormon population. In the GOP caucuses this year, 88 percent of Mormon voters backed Romney, according to CBS News entrance polling.