We told you last week about a growing note of discord between House and Senate Republicans' political message on mortgage aid. While House conservatives lambaste the Obama administration's $75 billion foreclosure plan as too pricey, their Senate counterparts are continuing to back a $121 billion-plus mortgage proposal from Columbia University professor and former Bush economic adviser Glenn Hubbard.
Now the intra-party tension over housing is becoming harder and harder to mask, as Roll Call reports (sub. req'd):
The [Senate GOP's] plan would potentially cover trillions of dollars of real estate and cost taxpayers up to $300 billion in subsidies. It's the sort of big-government spending plan that House Republicans have been railing against -- at least when they come from the lips of Democrats.
But House Republican leaders have avoided criticizing their more centrist Senate brethren, preferring to focus their fire on Democratic plans to bail out struggling homeowners instead, like Obama's $275 billion proposal announced last week to rework distressed mortgages to prevent foreclosures.
As President Obama's "fiscal responsibility summit" consumes much of Washington's oxygen today, a critical question is being largely ignored in the mainstream media: Will this administration dispense with the notion of an overall "entitlements" crisis and begin treating Social Security and Medicare like the separate issues they are?
The New York Timesraises the issue, in a back-handed fashion, by reporting that congressional Democrats are warning Obama against attempting to shore up Social Security's long-term fiscal health. Per the Times:
Those who oppose action said Mr. Obama must focus on his bigger priority -- health care legislation to expand access to insurance and reduce the costs of care. They argue that success there would help control the unsustainable growth of Medicare and Medicaid, the government's other major benefit programs, which together pose a far greater fiscal problem.
It's not clear which Capitol Hill Democrats helped quash the idea of announcing a "Social Security task force" during today's fiscal summit -- but Obama would be well-served to heed their advice.
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Mortgage giant Freddie Mac has begun an investigation into its own lobbying activities. The firm spent $2 million dollars to fight regulations that would have required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to sell hundreds of billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities held in their portfolios. The same securities plunged in value when the housing market tanked. High-priced lawyers from Covington & Burling will lead the probe. (Associated Press)
Attorney General Eric Holder embarked today on a trip to review the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The trip comes in the wake of Obama's announcement that he intends to close the facility within a year. News reporters were not allowed to accompany Holder on his flight to Cuba, and it is unclear if any part of the visit will be open to press coverage. (Associated Press)
A Pentagon review of Guantanamo Bay has concluded that treatment of detainees at the facility meets the standards set by the Geneva Conventions. The review came as part of the process of closing the facility, something mandated by President Obama. The report is likely to irk defense lawyers, who for years have insisted that treatment at the camps has lead to mental health problems for some detainees. (Washington Post)
A new polling analysis from Gallup shows a very interesting piece of data within the slight decline of President Obama's approval rating, down from its 68% honeymoon rating when he took office, to 63% now. Not only is the dip fueled solely by a fall in Republican support -- in fact, his ratings have gone up slightly among everyone else.
Between the polling sample from January 21-25, compared to February 9-15, Obama's ratings went from 90% to 94% among self-identified liberal Democrats, from 87% to 88% among moderate Dems, from 80% to 84% with conservative Dems, and from 47% to 50% among independents. On the other hand, his approval fell from 53% to 47% moderate Republicans, with a plummet of 36% down to 22% with conservative Republicans.
Obama's ratings are still very strong, and it appears the dip in his ratings is coming from people who were unlikely to have approved of him in the first place, but for the honeymoon factor. Everyone else, on the other hand, is either staying the same or approving even more.
Court documents filed Thursday say Ann Copland took thousands of dollars worth of event tickets and meals out in Washington from Abramoff and associates at his firm. Prosecutors say the gifts were in exchange for her favors benefiting one of their top clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
For weeks, there had been speculation that this move might be coming. When Team Abramoff member Todd Boulanger was charged last month, court documents referred to a Cochran staffer as having accepted gifts from Boulanger, in exchange for doing legislative favors for the Choctaw. The Associated Press quickly identified the staffer as Copland.
Then when Boulanger pleaded guilty shortly after, court documents revealed email exchanges between him and Copland, in which she complained that there were no "Hebrew National hotdogs" in the corporate suite at a Baltimore Orioles game that Abramoff's firm had provided her, and declared she was "freaking out" because no food was provided for her party at a Washington ice skating event.
Boulanger once wrote to Abramoff of Copland:
She's more valuable to us than a rank and file house member.
Copland abruptly left Cochran's office last year as Abramoff prosecutors gained more convictions of Hill aides. She had worked there 29 years.
So: Could the wide-ranging probe now have Cochran in its sights? We may be about to find out...
Obama To Pick Interior Dept. Inspector General To Oversee Stimulus
President Obama will reportedly appoint Earl Devaney, the Interior Department inspector general responsible for investigating the Abramoff scandal, to be the chairman of the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, overseeing the economic stimulus program. Obama is expected to announce the pick today.
Obama And Biden Speaking to Governors, Addressing Fiscal Summit
President Obama and Vice President Biden are speaking at 10:15 a.m. ET to the National Governors Association, where they will discuss what governors can do to implement the economic stimulus program. At 1 p.m. ET they will be delivering opening remarks to the Fiscal Responsibility Summit, with closing remarks at 4 p.m. ET.
Biden Meeting With George Clooney To Discuss Darfur Conflict
Vice President Biden is holding a closed-door meeting tonight with George Clooney, to discuss the Darfur conflict and Clooney's recent travels there.
GOP Looks Back To Early 90's For Opposition And Comeback StrategiesThe Politicoreports that Republicans are quite consciously looking back to the strategies employed during the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency, in their opposition to President Obama's policies now. Grover Norquist said there are two choices: "One is 1990, [President George H.W.] Bush gets together with the Democrats at Andrews Air Force Base, raises taxes and loses the next election. The other is 1993, Democrats have a series of proposals to spend and tax. Republicans vote no and regain the House and Senate."
Feingold And Dreier Pitch Special Senate Elections To Illinois
Russ Feingold and Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) have co-authored an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, finding a likely positive audience in the push for a constitutional amendment to end gubernatorial appointments to Senate vacancies in the wake of the recent controversies. "In the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the backroom dealing isn't staying in the backroom anymore," the two write.
Bunning Predicts Ginsburg's Death, Blasts GOP For Lack Of Support
In explaining his commitment to ensuring the appointments of conservative judges, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) told a local Republican dinner on Saturday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has nine months to live. "Bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from," Bunning said. He also criticized his national party for not giving him sufficient financial support, also claiming a lack of support for conservatives Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and...David Vitter.
George P. Bush Attacks Pro-Stimulus Republicans On Fiscal Responsibility
George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, spoke to a national conference of Young Republicans over the weekend and criticized certain unnamed Republicans -- understood to be Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- for supporting the stimulus package. "We as conservatives have to ultimately balance the federal government's checkbook," the younger Bush said -- possibly unaware of certain events over the last eight years.
Oh, brother. The conspiracy-mongering that Barack Obama is secretly a Kenyan citizen who has hidden his real birth certificate has now found its way into the utterances of a United States Senator: Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama.
"Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate," Shelby said on Saturday, in response to a constituent's question at a public event. "You have to be born in America to be president."
Click here for FactCheck.org's debunking of this whole business.
Late Update: Shelby's spokesman has responded to the story, telling Ben Smith that it's a "distortion." The spokesman says Shelby mentioned the birth certificate as a "throwaway line" in explaining the qualifications for office, and that Shelby "doesn't have any doubt" of Obama's eligibility.
Obama Plans To Cut Deficit -- From Enormous Down To Huge
President Obama is reportedly planning a budget policy that would cut the deficit in half by cutting the budgets for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and by ending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $250,000. But here's some math to show just what a tough job he has ahead of him: The deficit would still be $533 billion by the end of his first term, down from the $1.3 trillion he inherited from George W. Bush.
Obama Hosting Governors At The White House Tonight
President Obama and the First Lady are hosting the National Governors Association for dinner at the White House tonight, with entertainment by Earth, Wind and Fire. Expect this to be a huge, momentous gathering -- and that's just Earth, Wind and Fire.
Sanford: Clyburn's Accusation About Stimulus Money "Is Absurd"
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) fired back at House Majority whip James Clyburn (D-SC) for saying his potential refusal of stimulus money was a "slap in the face" to his African-American constituents. "I think that any of us as governors -- and we do have 50 different incubators of different ideas and trying to get it right within our respective states, trying to make the judgment as best they can," said Sanford. "But the idea that color would filter into that decision-making process is absurd."
Barbour Accuses Obama Of Waging Permanent Campaign
In an interview with CNN, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), a former RNC chairman, noted that President Obama has been promoting the stimulus plan in swing states like Colorado, Indiana and Florida. "He's going to those places for a reason," Barbour said, attributing this development to the campaign skills of David Axelrod. "And so this is what we've become accustomed to, the perpetual campaign."
Feds Question Burris About BlagoThe Chicago Sun-Timesreports that federal authorities questioned Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) at his lawyer's office on Saturday, regarding the Blagojevich case and the circumstances of his Senate appointment. He has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Franken Camp Files New Ballot List
The Franken campaign has filed an amended list of 1,585 rejected absentee ballots that they say should be reconsidered for counting. Quite interestingly, nearly half of them were already on Norm Coleman's list of 4,800 -- but the conventional wisdom has been that both sides pick ballots that they believe will skew towards themselves. Does the Franken campaign know something that Team Coleman doesn't?
Schwarzenegger: GOP Is Creating Insecurity, Should Work With Obama
Appearing on This Week, Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized the Republican Party in Washington for being overly ideological, and not working constructively with President Obama. "They should make an effort to work together and to find what is best for the people," said Arnold, "because by derailing everything, it's not going to help anybody, and it creates instability and insecurity."
Obama Focuses On Stimulus Tax Cuts In YouTube Address
In his latest YouTube address, President Obama seeks to focus the public's attention on the tax-cut portions of the stimulus bill. "Never before in our history has a tax cut taken effect faster or gone to so many hardworking Americans," he says:
But Obama also stresses work remains to be done on helping people pay their bills, unlocking the credit markets, solving the housing crisis, generating growth and restoring fiscal discipline -- and that these issues are all inter-connected: "In short, we cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing them all."
GOP Keeps Up Debunked Math About Stimulus
In the new weekly Republican response to president Obama's YouTube, Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) continues to push the GOP's line that their own plan would have created more jobs at half the cost:
As we've pointed out, this claim is based on some very questionable math -- it involves reversing prior calculations about what a tax increase would do, and declaring the mirror image to be true for a tax cut, and also ignores the fact that the current deflationary crisis involves different fundamental economic assumptions than usual.
Governors In Washington This Weekend
The National Governors Association is meeting in Washington this weekend, and are set to have dinner at the White House tomorrow with President Obama. CQpoints out that several of the Republican governors have also been seen as potential presidential candidates -- Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist, among others -- and could be testing any potential support while they're in Washington.
WaPo Profiles Jim Messina, Obama's 'Fixer'The Washington Posthas a new profile of President Obama's Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, dubbing him "the fixer" who deals with solving Obama's problems. "The exact nature of that task changes from day to day," the Post says -- ranging from smoothing over the confirmation of Tim Geithner, to finding new potential nominees for Health and Human Services, or devising a strategy to track stimulus spending.
National GOP Sending Big Bucks To Minnesota Senate FightThe Hill reports that the national Republican Party has invested heavily in the Minnesota election dispute, with the RNC sending $250,000 to the Minnesota GOP. John McCain has sent $142,000 to the state GOP, as well, and other national figures have also sent money. "The RNC made the Minnesota recount a priority because we think Sen. Coleman has a strong case and deserves to return to the Senate," RNC spokesman Alex Conant told The Hill.
Report: Burris Has No Plans To Quit -- For NowRoll Callreports that Roland Burris has no plans to resign -- at least not yet. "Resigning has not been an option discussed," a source told the paper. "Who knows what's going to happen over the weekend? Anything can change."
Hillary Asks China For Cooperation On Climate Change
While touring China, Hillary Clinton called upon the country to work with the United States to curb greenhouse gases, and to manage its economic growth in an environmentally sound way. "When we were industrializing and growing, we didn't know any better; neither did Europe," said Hillary. "Now we're smart enough to figure out how to have the right kind of growth."
Socks The Cat Dies
Socks, the cat formerly owned by the Clintons during their years in the White House, and then given to personal secretary Betty Currie, has died at age 19. "Socks brought much happiness to Chelsea and us over the years, and enjoyment to kids and cat lovers everywhere," the Clintons said in a statement.