No matter what the American people tell pollsters about government in the abstract, they broadly support the idea that government has a legitimate role in taking specific steps to combat economic suffering and unfettered free market recklessness and to shore up the shrinking middle class.

That’s the premise of the Obama reelection campaign. And today in Falls Church, Virginia, Obama again staked out this turf, offering a new plan to help homeowners whose mortgages are “under water,” by enabling them to save $3,000 a year by refinancing their mortgages at historically low interest rates. The plan offers a Homeowner Bill of Rights to prevent homeowners from getting screwed over by fees, conflicts of interests, lack of disclosure about mortgages and inappropriate forclosure.

The difference here is that in this case, something actually could get done. Here’s why: It could prove a bit more difficult than usual for Congressional Republicans to oppose this plan — because none other than Mitt Romney himself has edged towards supporting a similar approach.

Matthew Yglesias argues that the plan could be a job-creation “game changer” by putting more money in people’s pockets to spend on other things, helping revive the economy.

How will Congressional Republicans respond, given that Romney has flirted with similar ideas?

A few days ago Romney said he was open to “providing a break to homeowners to get lower interest rates” if it can be done without adding “additional government obligation.” Obama’s plan would be paid for by fees on financial institutions.

What’s more, Romney is heading for a primary in Nevada, where the foreclosure crisis is severe, so the politics of rejecting Obama’s plan would be interesting to say the least.

In his speech today, Obama combined a robust defense of government intervention in the housing market with an implicit slap at Romney for previously claiming we should let the foreclosure process run its course (which is contradicted by his recent support for some type of intervention):

Government certainly can’t fix the entire problem on its own. But it is wrong for anybody to suggest that the only option for struggling responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. I refuse to accept that and so do the American people...There are actions we can take right now to provide some relief to folks who have been responsible, have done the right thing, and are making their payments on time.

Obama described homebuying by many Americans as a “downpayment on their dreams,” and the home is the bedrock of security for the middle class. Whatever the shortcomings of Obama’s overall housing policies, this proposal represents in miniature the ideas that much of the 2012 presidential campaign will be fought around.