There were two ways to deal with the collapsing U.S. housing market: Leave well enough alone or get out the rescue apparatus.
For a politician, it doesn't look good to sit on your hands when a plum of a crisis is passing by and "well enough" would describe a lot of things, but the housing market was not one of them. As such, the Obama administration saddled up and rode out to meet the foe, a collapsing market that is the backbone of personal finance in this country: home ownership.
For all of the administration's efforts to intervene and stave off the rising tide of foreclosures, the market struggled. This week, the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index said only two cities in January, San Diego and Washington, saw prices rise in the prior 12 months. For the 20-city composite index, prices dropped 3.1 percent.
There have been various voices proclaiming an economic recovery has begun, including the U.S. Federal Reserve that says it is gaining some self-sustaining momentum. But S&P Index Committee Chairman David Blitzer says the overall recovery has not included housing. For months, he has been releasing statements on housing's double-dip. This month he said: "Keeping with trends set in late 2010, January brings us weakened home prices with no real hope in sight for the near future."
"The housing market recession is not yet over," he added "And none of the statistics are indicating any form of sustained recovery."
Having a discussion about leaving the collapsing market to collapse on its own, like an alcoholic needing to hit bottom, is to entertain the idea that there was a choice. Like waving a Wiffle ball bat at an oncoming wind, the administration's pledge to pump $1 billion into support of mortgage loans for those who have lost their jobs -- 15.5 million are out of work -- was hardly enough funds to pay for the ink to publicize the program. Philadelphia homeowner James Tyson told The New York Times, "We wait and wait, and they say it's coming," referring to help from Washington.
In fact, the help could better be described as here and gone and not many noticed. Republicans voted Tuesday to kill the Home Assistant Modification Program, a measure the budget office in the White House says it recommended the president veto, putting a futile program back into the headlines again.
That boulder Democrats and Republicans are pushing back and forth is a pebble.
"The banking industry fought us tooth and nail, and we ended up with a program that is failing homeowners," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said.
"The administration doesn't give us real enforcement or answers; we just get the old okey-doke," Lofgren said.
There's an understatement for you.
In international markets Wednesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 2.64 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China dropped 0.08 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong added 1.7 percent while the Sensex in India gained 0.89 percent.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.39 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index gained 0.42 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany climbed 1.68 percent. The CAC 40 in France added 0.88 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.71 percent.