Nation Briefs

Mortgage rates at lowest since 1960s

WASHINGTON — Homeowners around the country are scrambling to refinance their mortgages at the lowest rates since the early 1960s as the economy staggers through what's likely to be the worst recession in decades.

Mortgage brokers are already reporting a surge of calls from borrowers trying to take advantage of the Federal Reserve's extraordinary actions this week.

The central bank, aiming to free up lending and jolt the economy back to life, on Tuesday cut the federal funds rate from 1 percent to a target range of zero to 0.25 percent and pledged to keep funneling money into the market for mortgage investments.

On Wednesday, some mortgage brokers were quoting mortgage rates of close to 4.5 percent for people with strong credit and hefty down payments.

"This is beautiful, oh my gosh!" said Patti Mazzara, a mortgage broker in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, who was surprised when she looked up rates and found them well below 5 percent, down at least three-quarters of a percentage point from earlier in the week.

Illinois court rejects removing governor

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — With the Illinois Supreme Court rejecting an effort to oust Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a legislative panel considering impeachment prepared to examine whether he abused his power, despite challenges from the Democrat's lawyer.

Attorney Ed Genson called the impeachment effort "Alice in Wonderland" and discounted federal wiretaps in which Blagojevich is heard talking about selling or trading Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

The Illinois House impeachment committee faces even more pressure now that the state's highest court has blocked an attempt to declare the two-term governor unfit to serve because of his legal and political troubles.

The panel planned to hear from its first witnesses today, including state government's top internal watchdog. The chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, said the committee will focus on whether Blagojevich abused his power by defying lawmakers, refusing to release public documents and spending money without authorization.

Blagojevich has been under siege since his arrest last week on charges that he tried to auction off Obama's seat. But he got some good news Wednesday when the court refused to hear the attorney general's legal challenge to his fitness to serve.

Obama looks to economic recovery plan

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is laying the groundwork for a giant economic stimulus package, possibly $850 billion over two years, in his first test of legislative give and take with Congress.

Obama's economic advisers are assembling a recovery plan and reaching out to members of Congress and their staffs. Obama aides cautioned that they have not settled on a specific grand total. But they noted that economists from across the political spectrum have recommended spending similar or even larger amounts to jolt the worsening economy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., this week said Democrats were preparing their own recovery bill in the range of $600 billion, blending immediate steps to counter the slumping economy with longer-term federal spending that encompasses Obama's plan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday that Obama has indicated that Congress will get his recovery recommendations by the first of the year.

­ — The Associated Press