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Home Builders Regroup With Lobbying Push

After months of bad news, including layoffs, the National Association of Home Builders is coming back swinging.

The leaner trade group is bringing some 1,000 members to Capitol Hill next week to make the case for increased lending to home buyers and builders as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform.

The group is also serving notice that it plans to throw its weight behind the industry’s greatest cheerleaders in the November election.

“We want sitting Members of Congress and both presidential candidates to make housing a big deal,” said Jerry Howard, the group’s chief executive. “We want these guys to make a statement prior to November.”

The group is pressing the House Financial Services Committee to mark up a bill that would encourage banks to make residential acquisition, development and construction loans. The measure, sponsored by Reps. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) and Brad Miller (D-N.C.), has 96 co-sponsors and would direct federal and state regulators to ensure banks are permitted to make loans, restore liquidity and provide stable financing to the housing sector.

On the Senate side, NAHB is trying to recruit co-sponsors for companion legislation introduced about a year ago by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga). Menendez is one of a handful of Democrats that have received campaign contributions from the group this cycle.

NAHB argues that banks should be prodded to lend in midsized metro areas such as Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., where the housing market is beginning to recover. They are also pushing for an overhaul of the federally backed mortgage market but haven’t endorsed any legislative proposals.

In an effort to emphasize its agenda to lawmakers facing tough re-election fights, such as Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the group has scheduled a series of demonstrations in seven swing states including Nevada, Missouri, Colorado, Florida and Michigan, as well as Virginia and Wisconsin, where either party could claim open Senate seats. The first stops are in Detroit in Tampa in mid-July.

The once-formidable lobbying power is about half the size it was at the height of the housing boom, and its clout in the loan-shy climate is still unclear. Several rounds of layoffs throughout last fall and winter have whittled the group’s employment to 244 from more than 400 in 2007.

At the same time, the organization’s membership, now at 140,000, also dropped significantly, with some of its largest members splintering off to form a separate association, the Leading Builders of America, two years ago. Those members, mostly large builders, have also maintained their relationship with NAHB.

But NAHB’s policy shop is still operating at full force with 11 lobbyists and more than 30 public affairs and policy analysts, Howard said.

The federation has spent $650,000 on lobbying so far this year. In 2011, the group spent $2.6 million trying to influence Congress and the administration, $200,000 more than it spent in the prior year, according to federal filings.

BUILD-PAC has raised more than $1.3 million so far this cycle and has doled out $930,000 to Congressional candidates. In 2010 the group contributed nearly $2 million to lawmakers.

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