Mortgage rescue plan inches toward Senate passage over Republican objections

.WASHINGTON (AP) – A mortgage rescue plan to save hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure drew overwhelming Senate support, inching toward passage despite Republican objections.

The Senate voted 76-10 Monday to advance the bill, a broad array of housing measures including overhauls of the Federal Housing Administration, the Depression-era mortgage insurer, and government-sponsored home loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Its centerpiece is a new $300 billion FHA program to allow debt-ridden homeowners who are currently too financially risky to qualify for government-backed loans to refinance into safer, more affordable mortgages.

The measure is on track for passage by an overwhelming margin, possibly by week’s end. It has survived several test votes in the Senate, repeatedly demonstrating that there’s enough support for it to override President Bush’s promised veto.

But Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is blocking its progress because Democratic leaders have refused to allow a vote on attaching an $8 billion package of renewable energy tax breaks. Ensign has said he wants the tax incentives to hitch a ride on the housing measure because it has a good chance of being signed into law by Bush.