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First thoughts: Nowhere to go but up

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Nowhere to go but up: One thing was absolutely clear about the home-foreclosure plan President Obama unveiled yesterday: It was received MUCH better than Geithner's rollout of Phase II of the bank rescue plan. Of course, that probably says more about the banking plan than the home foreclosure one; there was nowhere to go but up, right? Still, GOP criticism over the foreclosure package was pretty tepid. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor released six questions about the plan. And House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a statement 1) asking why the government should reward Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and 2) wondering if taxpayers will be forced to subsidize ACORN. Seriously, when the GOP starts trotting out ACORN talking points, you know they don't have much to complain about. But, after reading between the lines, there is a common thread linking the foreclosure and banking plans: The Obama administration was very careful about what it didn't say -- namely, that not every homeowner and bank is going to be saved. There are going to be a lot of folks allowed to go under, as well as a lot of banks that fail the stress test. The question is how the administration can prove what's happening (when it happens later this spring and summer) is not as bad as if nothing was done. Will the markets react that way as well?

Video: James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, discusses details of Obama's foreclosure plan on CNBC.

*** Just askin': So how much is the housing plan going to cost? $75 billion or $275 billion? The White House insists that the cost is $75 billion, saying the $200 billion being used to stabilize and recapitalize Fannie and Freddie shouldn't be counted because not all the money is necessarily being spent. (Speaking yesterday to First Read, a White House aide compared it to the FDIC. If you raised the money that the government insures bank loans from $100,000 to $200,000, he said, that doesn't mean the federal government is spending new money. It's just backing up that amount.) That said, Fannie/Freddie could not offer the lower interest rates to refinance without the capital safety net, and it's pretty clear this plan will never cost $75 billion. So isn't it more correct that without $275 billion in total money, this housing plan couldn't be implemented? Discuss.

*** A GOP litmus test? This is a fascinating story, per the AP: "A half-dozen Republican governors are considering turning down some money from the federal stimulus package, a move opponents say puts conservative ideology ahead of the needs of constituents struggling with foreclosures and unemployment." Who are these GOP governors? They're a "who's who" of possible presidential candidates in 2012 -- Sanford (SC), Jindal (LA), Palin (AK), Perry (TX), and Barbour (MS). What say you, Mitt Romney? This could become the ultimate litmus test for Republicans. But what will happen if residents decide they need the assistance and don't want to lose out on the money? Can governors block this aid? Will state legislatures allow it? Remember, governors have to balance their budgets, so if these Republicans decide not to accept the money, will they get blamed for the future spending cuts or tax hikes that have to follow?

*** Time to unleash the "Strange Brew" references, hoser: In his first international trip as president, Obama today travels to Canada. He arrives in Ottawa beginning at 10:30 am ET, where he'll later be greeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. After that, the two men will attend a working lunch (along with several other U.S. and Canadian officials). Then, at 2:45 pm, Obama and Harper will hold a joint media availability. And finally, Obama will meet with Canada's opposition leader and American embassy personnel before returning to DC. What questions will come up at the media avail? Trade? Afghanistan? Cuba? Mexico's drug violence? And which questions won't be touched with a 3.2-meter pole? (Two bonus points for any reader who remembers THAT previous reference.)

*** Flashback time: Speaking of 1) Austan Goolsbee and 2) Canada… Today's Obama-Harper meeting, of course, comes almost a year after U.S.-Canadian relations jumped to the forefront of the Democratic primary fight, when a leaked memo from Canada's Chicago consulate office claimed that Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee was downplaying Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric. The memo reported that Goolsbee, after meeting with Canada's consulate, said Obama's tough talk about NAFTA during the campaign "should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans." The Clinton campaign, of course, pounced on the memo in the build-up to primaries in Ohio and Texas, both of which Clinton won (although Obama won the Texas caucuses). And as it turns out, Goolsbee was speaking the truth. It was the classic instance of a Kinsley-defined Washington gaffe -- accidental truth telling.

*** Sebelius speculation: Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has emerged as Obama's top choice to head HHS. Our sources won't yet classify Sebelius as a "leading candidate," but no one is disputing she's on the short list for this post. Some in the White House may be a tad spooked by the "she's gonna get it" reporting because they fear she may not and they will have disappointed her yet again. Sebelius had been seen at one point as a shoo-in for Labor, and then suddenly was passed over. Obviously, the president and the Kansas governor have a good personal relationship, but it could get strained if it looks like she's being yanked around. Of course, the big blow for Democrats in all of this Sebelius speculation is that it now seems pretty clear she's not interested in running for the open Senate seat in Kansas. Would she allow herself to be talked about like this if she were seriously looking at running?

*** Dead pol walking, part II: Yesterday, we mentioned that Roland Burris looked like a dead pol walking. Well, the New York Post's Fred Dicker -- picking up on David Paterson's new low poll numbers -- notes that the New York governor might soon be joining him. "'It looks like it'll be Gov. Cuomo,' sighed a longtime Paterson loyalist. Words like 'unprecedented' and 'unbelievable' were being used to describe Paterson's collapse in popularity - but many on the inside said they weren't all that surprised. Those who've known Paterson well for decades say he's always been unfocused, self-centered, often lazy - and, at times, clownish and immature." It's amazing what one badly handled Senate appointment can do to your political standing. Back to Burris, we're wondering what the difference is between an editorial page calling for a resignation and the New York Times recommending that he "consider resigning." Discuss. 

*** Coleman's final move? Someday, the Coleman-Franken race in Minnesota -- which has been going on for 107 days past Election -- is going to come to an end. But that isn't going to happen for weeks. Or now maybe even months, given that the Coleman legal team seems to be laying down a marker that it will take its case to the state Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court. This all comes after a three-judge panel yesterday declined to reconsider its ruling last week to exclude several different categories of absentee ballots, reducing the overall pool of ballots Coleman needs to overturn Franken's 225-vote lead. After yesterday's decision, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg fired off this statement: "The net effect of the court's February 13th ruling, and their decision today to not reconsider this ruling, is a legal quagmire that makes ascertaining a final, legitimate result to this election even more difficult." Meanwhile, the Coleman camp is still trying to raise money, releasing this YouTube fundraising solicitation from GOP senators.

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 103 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 110 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 257 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 621 days

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