Barack Obama Holds Economic Roundtable in Van Nuys

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was in Van Nuys Wednesday afternoon for a backyard roundtable discussion about the economy. KPCC special correspondent Kitty Felde also was there.

Kitty Felde: The setting was your average Valley backyard: plastic patio chairs, a ladder leaning up against the garage, leafblowers going full blast right next door. For homeowner Mimi Vitello, the media crush began early when the TV trucks showed up outside her door.

Mimi Vitello: Yeah! In fact, I was broadcast in Southern California in my pajamas. And so, I'm not proud, I can tell people!

Felde: Vitello was wearing a blazer by the time Barack Obama showed up to talk about economic issues. She and three other "average Southern Californians" chosen by the Obama campaign spoke frankly about taking on credit card debt to pay for a child's college education.

They shared worries about interest-only mortgage payments scheduled to skyrocket with no prospect of an extra income to cover them. Gustavo Izarde told Obama he owns an auto repair shop. He said his credit card interest rate has jumped from the 0% teaser rate to 31%.

Gustavo Izarde: It's a vicious cycle. You know, you pay off your credit cards, you refinance, you pay them off again, and again, you're filing for debt. So, you know, and it used to be that I always had health insurance, and now I've been without health insurance for over a year, and I never thought, you know, in my 40s, that I would be without health insurance.

Felde: Obama said he is proposing a credit card bill of rights to keep banks and credit card companies in check.

Senator Barack Obama: We're going to have a five star rating system, so people can actually compare who's got the best rates on credit cards, and you'll be a well informed consumer of credit cards. We want to prohibit the practice of unilaterally changing the rates that people borrow from. You know, that you are going to have to, the credit card company has to abide by the rules it sets at the beginning. If it wants to change its rates, it's got to be based on an agreement, a new agreement with the borrower.

Felde: Obama proposed reforming the recently enacted bankruptcy law. He talked about a $10 billion loan package to help homeowners facing foreclosure. He promised an immediate tax rebate for middle class Americans. Homeowner Mimi Vitello had a followup.

Vitello: Where's the money coming from that will be like a tax rebate?
Obama: Well, there are two separate aspects to this. The tax rebate, that is a one time thing. And that just comes out of general revenue. And, you know–
Vitello: Is there money still in general revenue?
Obama: Well, you know, I mean it depends on sort of, you know, it's all paper money, right? It's, we're already in deficit. The problem is, if we don't do that, and the recession lasts longer, then the loss in revenue to the federal treasury is so much greater from a long standing recession.

Felde: At the end of the afternoon, Mimi Vitello was impressed, but not completely convinced.

Vitello: I have a lot of thinking to do still.

Felde: This has been a busy week for Democratic candidates in the golden state. Hillary Clinton, who leads in the polls, and John Edwards, who trails both Obama and Clinton, are also in town to stump for votes.

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