Speaking before the East Metro Board of Realtors Thursday morning, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) spoke at length of the troubles facing the housing industry, saying "these are trying times."
Calling the current housing market downturn the worst he has seen in more than 30 years, Isakson, a former Realtor himself, attributed the current recession to easy credit, too much money and shoddy underwriting.
Isakson, speaking at DeKalb Technical College's Newton Center, said all four of the previous housing market downturns he has experienced could be attributed to the same factors causing the current one - bad monetary policy. Isakson blamed "Wall Street, not Main Street" for the current economic situation.
While praising the government-backed buyout of the stricken investment bank Bear Stearns Cos. as a "good thing" and the actions taken by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to continue to cut interest rates, in the next breath Isakson told the crowd that government intervention in the marketplace needed to be limited.
"Government hurts more than it helps," Isakson said, adding later, "we've got to stay on top of Wall Street to make sure we won't have this problem again."
Isakson also briefed the crowd on his own senate bill to provide a one-time only $15,000 tax credit for buyers of homes in foreclosure or new homes constructed before September 2007. Isakson said the bill was scheduled to come before the senate floor for debate the second week in April. Isakson said the bill, if approved, would be put into effect for one year.
Isakson added his bill was not unlike legislation passed in the mid-1970s to bring the nation out of housing market downturn. He said his $15,000 tax credit was, with inflation, roughly equal to the $2,000 tax credit, passed in the 1970s. He said the tax credit would be approximately equal to 7 percent the average purchase price of a home today.
Praising the gathered crowd of realtors for their professionalism, Isakson told them "This to will pass and when it does we'll be better off for it."
While avoiding direct mention of President George Bush, Isakson had kind words for two of the initiatives the president is best known for - tax cuts and the Iraq War. Isakson said he did not vote in favor of the fiscal year 2009 budget the senate approved last week because it did not include the Bush tax cuts.
He also spoke about his recent trip to Baghdad. Isakson, who has visited Iraq several times in the past five years, said he noticed a remarkable improvement on his last trip.
"We're making a lot of progress," said Isakson, who attributed the recent downtick in troop and civilian casualties to last year's surge and the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus.
Isakson said he believed the U.S. was looking at "the beginning of the end" of its war in Iraq. He also told the audience the U.S. had to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. Isakson said he believed half of the current cost of oil was the result of speculation on future demand for the nonrenewable resource.
He advised replacing oil domestically with cellulose based ethanol and nuclear energy.