While this spring’s federal economic stimulus package is expected to help the tri-county economy, more needs to be done “to stop the bleeding” caused by the mortgage crisis, said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, in a Memorial Day interview.
The 10-year congresswoman said she favors legislation co-authored by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and two other congressmen, which in part calls for helping homeowners and even renters if they face foreclosure on their homes.
However, House Resolution 3915 – “The Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007” – has been called “the broker’s worst nightmare” by its opponents.
“We have to get the families back on track,” Capps said in defense of HR3915. “Some are just walking away from their homes in Santa Maria because they can’t pay the mortgage.”
While Capps sees foreclosure relief as key to prevent the already troubled economy from worsening, she said, “some accountability is needed. If the [mortgage] industry isn’t going to control itself, then maybe we should … maybe with the [real estate] associations, too.”
Capps said tri-county small business and the blossoming technology sector are keeping her district’s economy vibrant as they use many of the ideas from the three universities in the region.
First elected to Congress in 1998, Capps saw her district enlarged a few years ago to include Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme. It originally targeted the Democratic strongholds of western Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
An outspoken Bush administration critic who is against the war and spiraling national deficit, Capps took aim at the White House and Republican lawmakers for doing little in the wake of the Countrywide Financial subprime mortgage meltdown, which has hurt Ventura County’s economy.
“We’ve had seven years with no oversight in the financial world,” Capps said. “We heard that some [lenders] forgot how to do loan documents.” She called for more consumer education as well as heightened oversight to help prevent similar crises in the future.
As for the fuel-cost crisis that is shaking up tri-county consumers and businesses alike, Capps said if drilling began today for new fossil-fuel sources, “It would take 10 years” to reap the benefits.
The president’s move to stop filling the nation’s strategic oil reserves “was a good idea,” but Capps admitted it was several years too late to halt the onslaught of $4-a-gallon gasoline along the Central Coast.
Capps said she was glad to see Congress bring in record-profit-making oil company chief executives to answer why fuel costs are so high. “Fuel means more to the country than just someone making a profit – it’s a matter of national security,” she said. Fuel costs are putting air travel in jeopardy as airlines begin charging more for just carrying luggage.
As for fuel solutions, Capps said, “Ethanol use is a good idea so long as it is taken from sources that are not used for food.” She said by-products of corn and grain products should be used for fuel.
“The most important thing is to conserve fuel and be more efficient with it,” Capps said. “We can’t be guzzling gas anymore.”
She touted federal tax credits for area small businesses aimed at solar and other alternative energy research and development. However, she admitted the solutions to today’s problems might not be found the near future.
Another key national issue that has no end in sight, Capps said, is the intense debate over U.S. immigration policy. “2011 is the soonest – I’ve been told – that it can be done,” said Capps, referring to what is called “comprehensive immigration reform.”
The congresswoman said she’s heartened that a bill by U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., that will help provide much-needed agricultural and tourism worked in the country. But Capps admitted the nation is polarized on the issue of immigration, which is a system that is fractured and in serious need of a revamp. “It becomes a question of do you support a comprehensive policy or do you want national security?” she said. “People jump to conclusions.”
She called plans to build a multimillion-dollar wall at the Mexican border “a terrible mistake” because of the cost and questionable effectiveness. Capps said, “Look what happened to the Berlin Wall; what we need is a ‘virtual wall’ that uses technology to secure the border.”
Even with the rancor over immigration, Capps said at least the three top presidential candidates favor comprehensive reform that includes a “path to citizenship,” which many immigrant foes claim is “amnesty for illegals.”
With her seniority in Congress, Capps relishes her role as a “superdelegate” at the Democratic National Convention, which begins Aug. 25 in Denver.
She admits it was a tough decision to switch her allegiance from long-time supporter Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. “I see hope and intensity there,” Capps said. “[Obama] says he can take us to a different place.”
However, unlike may Clinton critics, Capps said she won’t push for Clinton to call off her presidential campaign before the convention. “I won’t tell her what to do,” Capps said.
As for whether the long primary battles between Clinton and Obama are hurting their chances to win the November election, Capps said, “I think it is important to stay positive.”