In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of Washington's biggest business lobbying groups, just released its response to the Obama administration's $75 billion mortgage aid plan.

As you'd expect, Chamber executive vice president Bruce Josten was skeptical of the aid plan, particularly the White House's support for letting bankruptcy judges modify the mortgage terms on primary residences (the so-called "cramdowns" bill). But Josten's response also included what sounds like a subtle jab at the treasury secretary in his statement, quipping that the mortgage aid proposal "should have undergone a stress test to determine if it's ready to stabilize a major portion of our economy."

A "stress test" to determine banks' solvency was a major component of Treasury chief Tim Geithner's widely panned speech last week, in which he provided vague details about how the administration would refine the enforcement of the $700 billion financial bailout.

Josten's full statement is after the jump.

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Check out the response from Team Coleman to the election court having ruled against their request for reconsideration of the court's opinion to throw out about 1,000 ballots that Coleman wants counted: They're declaring that there are now serious legal problems in this election.

Coleman lawyer/spokesman Ben Ginsberg said in a statement to the Star Tribune that there is a "fatal inconsistency" in the counting of votes, and that the effect of the court's ruling "is a legal quagmire that makes ascertaining a final legitimate result to this election even more difficult."

The court's rulings are creating a legal quagmire? I've been keeping track of this disputed result since Election Night itself, longer than even Ginsberg has been on board with Coleman. Trust me, we were in that zone a while ago.

Also note that Ginsberg questioned the possibility of a "legitimate" result to this election. It's very clear at this point that Coleman is laying the groundwork for an appeal, should this court rule Franken the winner. And given some prior moments in this trial, we can't rule out the idea that Coleman might shoot for a do-over, by declaring the election unsolvable.

As President Obama rolls out his $75 billion aid program to stem the tide of foreclosures among cash-strapped Americans, one key point should be emphasized: Banks participating in the government's $700 billion financial bailout are required to help modify home loans, according to the administration.

"[W]e have guidance as part of [the Troubled Assets Relief Program] that anyone receiving TARP funding must participate in this program," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters today.

It sounds like the Obama team has learned its lesson from the framework of the bailout, which offered injections of capital in the hopes that banks would be enticed to jump-start lending -- with predictably shoddy results, as banks have largely hung onto the government's cash.

But this enforced participation in mortgage modifications brings up another question ... why can't bailed-out banks be forced to abide by Congress' new executive compensation limits?

So has Florida Governor Charlie Crist done himself any political harm among Republican voters, after he hit the trail with President Obama to support the stimulus bill?

The answer, according to the new Quinnipiac poll in Florida, is not at all.

The poll says that in the open Senate race for the seat of retiring GOP Senator Mel Martinez, Crist could easily win a Republican primary, if he runs -- he's ahead of his nearest potential opponent by 53%-13%. And there are even more numbers that suggest GOP voters aren't holding his stimulus support against him.

Crist has an overall job approval of 67%, to 22% disapproval, essentially unchanged from the 65%-24% numbers a month ago. Among Republican voters only, Crist is at 71%-21% -- again, pretty much the same as last month's 72%-19%.

So if Crist has thus far not paid any political price for backing the stimulus, this invites an important question: Would there have been any real political risk at all if other Republicans who are otherwise popular at home had supported the bill?

The AP finally takes a look today at our January Sleeper Bill of the Month, the congressional proposal for an independent commission that would investigate civil-liberties and human-rights abuses permitted during the Bush years.

Shocking as it is, Republicans tell the AP that a post-Bush "truth commission" is a terrible concept. But you've got to applaud the sheer chutzpah of Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) response:

This not only a bad idea, it is a diversion from the economic crisis we face.


I can't wait until the economic recession becomes a reason not to debate union organizing rules and pass health care reform.

Now that President Obama has unveiled his long anticipated mortgage relief plan, what does the permanent government of Washington have to say about the plan? The plan got a tentative thumbs up from the American Bankers Association. Diane Casey-Landry, ABA senior executive vice president and chief operating officer said in a statement.

"The American Bankers Association welcomes the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan announced today by President Obama. The plan is a constructive, flexible and multifaceted initiative likely to have a positive effect on preventing mortgage foreclosures. The ABA is committed to working closely with the administration as it completes the remaining details of the plan. In particular, the plan is:

*A major commitment of funding sufficient in scope to have a significant impact. *Aimed at those at-risk homeowners most likely to avoid foreclosure under the planned assistance and incentives. * Designed to include market incentives, and to complement and reinforce industry initiatives and FHA programs."


I've been trying to reach the National Association of Realtors and the National Home Builders Association for their reaction as well.

Not surprisingly, the reaction from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has been positive. They stand to get $200 billion in new funds. Besides, they're under government conservatorship and not really in a position to criticize the big guy.

"The Administration's unprecedented effort to prevent foreclosures and expand refinancing options for more borrowers offers hope to many struggling families across America. This is just the beginning of a sustained effort that will build over time. Fannie Mae is committed to working with the Administration," says Herb Allison, Fannie's CEO.

The biggest obstacle that lies ahead is the administration's plan to give bankruptcy court judges the power to rewrite mortgage terms. Not surprisingly, the banks are not crazy about this and will oppose it but the threat of giving judges such power--something opposed by the Bush administration--gives the banks plenty of incentive to rewrite the terms of loans before the judges do. Benjamin Lockwood in The Atlantic argues against these judicial "cram downs" here.

Will update as we hear more but this fight over bankruptcy judges is the one to watch.

Here's a telling counter-point to the four House Republicans who are touting the benefits of the newly signed stimulus law ... despite their unanimous opposition to it.

Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), one of three GOPers in the upper chamber who supported the stimulus after insisting on significant cuts to the bill, just emailed Pennsylvanian constituents a letter putting his vote in context -- and fairly agonized context at that.

After suggesting last week that his fellow Republicans were too lily-livered to join him in backing President Obama's plan, Specter's new note practically apologizes for his stance on the stimulus, calling it "the best ... we could [do] under the circumstances."

But my favorite part has to be the finale, where Specter depicts himself as a lone defender of the common good over political gain: "[M]y duty was to look out for the public interest and not my own personal political interest." Keep in mind that even as he tagged other Republicans as too politically motivated to support the stimulus, Specter was openly fretting about a likely primary challenge from the right.

His full letter to Pennsylvanians is after the jump, with the original bolded text intact.

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The GOP leadership is stepping up their public appeals for everyone to help Norm Coleman keep this trial going. The Coleman camp has posted this YouTube, featuring prominent Capitol Hill Republicans asking for donations:



"I'm proud of Norm and his perseverance," says Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who is currently the head of the NRSC. "I'm proud that he is willing to continue to fight hard to represent the people of Minnesota, and to make sure that their votes count. And we want him back."

Keep in mind that this lawsuit has made sure that not only is Norm Coleman not representing the people of Minnesota -- but nobody is, because the Republicans have blocked any idea of seating Al Franken provisionally. And as a result, the voters of Minnesota don't count as much as other states in the Senate.

(Via Minnesota Public Radio)

Displaying unexpected care for "the welfare of congressional Dems," as TPM alum Greg notes, the National Review suggested yesterday that President Obama was hogging the spotlight by signing the stimulus bill into law alone, sans Senate and House Democrats.

The notion that conservatives watched yesterday's bill signing and asked themselves, "Why aren't Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid getting their moment in the sun?!" is pretty hilarious. But here's something even funnier: Four House Republicans have come out in recent days taking credit for the passage of an economic recovery plan that every single member of their party opposed.

Here's a list of the GOPers in question and their faux-victory laps, courtesy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

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If you're interested in the question of whether Barack Obama can change the culture of Washington, one of the things worth looking at is the lobbying efforts over the F 22 Raptor. The decision of what to do with this fighter aircraft is one of the more important defense procurement questions the administration will face. And, like all defense issues, it's wrapped up in politics especially in a deep recession when jobs are scarce and good-aying jobs are even scarcer.

Some background: Over decades, weapons systems have taken on a life of their own and proven hard to halt even when the Pentagon is ambivalent about having them. My former TIME colleague, Mark Thompson, a veteran defense correspondent, has, for instance, written at length about the problems bedeviling the V-22 Osprey aircraft and why, despite its woes, billions have been pumped into the project.

When it comes to the F 22 Raptor, the administration is facing a March 1 deadline to decide how many more F22s to order. Lockheed is supposed to deliver the last of the current batch of 181 on order in 2011. The argument against ordering still more F22s is that the Pentagon already has a similar aircraft, the F 35 Joint Strike fighter online and, besides, the more pressing issue for the U.S. is not air superiority in a conventional war but rooting out terrorists in the Khyber Pass. The Air Force has indicated that it would like a total of 381 but several senior Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have hinted that they'd like far fewer if not to put the kabosh on the program entirely. The Pentagon "has not demonstrated the need or value for making further investments" in the plane, the Government Accountability Office found.

So not surprisingly there's a lot of lobbying going on to keep the F 22 rolling. Northrop and Lockheed Martin are lobbying heavily to keep the plane in production and there's a large press availability this week where reporters can sit in simulators and learn all about the 95,000 jobs the plane's advocates say are at state. Any state where there's work related to the Raptor is lobbying for it. "With rising unemployment, we need to make sure that we're not making a knee-jerk reaction and we keep this program going strong," Keith Scott, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce told the Baltimore Sun. Our point is, No. 1, this preserves jobs, and No. 2, it is immediate. You don't have to develop anything," Lawson said. "This is 'shovel ready.' "

According to the Los Angeles Times
, the F-22 program is directly responsible for 25,000 jobs at Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin and its major suppliers. But Lockheed officials say when jobs from sub-suppliers are added in, the F-22 program maintains 95,000 jobs in 44 states. Among the firms helping Lockheed in Washington is Public Strategies, home to George W. Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon. In Congress, prominent senators from Ted Kennedy to Judd Gregg to Dianne Feinstein signed a letter back in January urging then President Elect Obama to keep the F22 going. Not surprisingly there's a website, www.preserveraptorjobs.com that's just part of the lobbying campaign being waged by the Lockheed, Boeing and other suppliers of the jet fighter. We'll know soon whether their efforts have been successful.

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