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Ensign offers compromise on housing bill

WASHINGTON — Under pressure from his own party, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., on Tuesday offered a deal to end his hold on a housing bill aimed at easing the mortgage foreclosure crisis that has hit Nevada harder than any other state.

Ensign said he would no longer block the housing bill if Congress added an amendment to cut federal spending by $8 billion to pay for tax cuts for companies developing alternative energy.

Originally, Ensign’s amendment did not include any offsets to pay for the tax cuts.

"It represents, literally, a .0005 percent spending cut in all discretionary spending programs in the United States," Ensign said of his compromise that he unveiled at a news conference.

"I would further add that if you just take it out of pork-barrelled, earmarked projects, you can pay for this whole thing over the next 10 years," he said.

Only spending for veterans would be exempted from cuts, according to Ensign’s offer.

But the early response to Ensign’s compromise was not promising.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a statement saying the Senate cannot afford to delay the housing bill any longer because 8,500 families are losing their homes every day.

"Unfortunately, the last two times we have offered Republicans the chance to extend renewable energy tax credits, they have said no," Reid said.

Reid sidestepped a question about whether Ensign is acting irresponsibly by holding up the housing bill.

"Senator Ensign and I do not criticize each other privately or publicly, so I’m not going to respond to that," Reid said.

But a Republican senator, Johnny Isaakson of Georgia, said it is time for Ensign to stop delaying the housing bill.

"The Senate is a place where you can make your point, but there’s a time at which your point is made and you have to judge the overall totality of the issue, and I think that time has come," Isaakson told Congressional Quarterly Today.

The national average is one foreclosure for every 555 homes. In Clark County, where 90 percent of Nevada’s foreclosures occur, the average is one foreclosure for every 20 homes.

Ensign denied he is punishing his constituents to make a political point.

"We know the housing bill is going to be done," Ensign said. "I’m trying to also do something which is very good for Nevada and the country in our clean energy tax bill. That’s the bottom line."

Ensign noted the Senate voted 88-8 for his amendment in April. He also rejected charges that his amendment has nothing to do with the housing bill. He said his amendment includes tax credits for making homes more energy efficient.

Asked if he was feeling pressure for holding up the housing bill, Ensign said, "I’m trying to do something I believe in."

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